Intimacy and Fertility
- If the patient is your partner, it’s important to understand that the gynecologic cancer and its treatment will likely have an impact on her sexual functioning and desire. It may also have a profound effect on her self-esteem and feelings of desirability.
- Recovery from surgery can take up to 6 weeks. If she had not experienced menopause before surgery, symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings, and vaginal dryness may occur. The side effects of pain medication, as well as chemotherapy and radiation, can have a lasting impact. For instance, radiation treatment can cause scarring in the vagina, which may cause it to narrow, making intercourse uncomfortable. In the short term, side effects, such as nausea and fatigue, may diminish interest in sex.
- Emotionally, she may experience self-consciousness about her body and fear that sexual intercourse may cause pain. This, too, may cause a loss of desire. But there is much you can do to help her and preserve your intimate relationship during this time.
How You Can Help
- Communication is key. Be sure to tell your partner that you find her desirable and you are willing to wait until she is ready to resume sexual activity.
- Be patient about your own sexual needs. Keep in mind that every woman recovers at her own pace and it’s normal for some women to continue to feel a lack of sexual desire for a while after treatment.
- Reassure her that sexual side effects are usually temporary and that her interest in sex and sexual response should return to normal after treatment is complete. Remind her that if she was able to achieve orgasm prior to treatment, she will likely regain that ability.
- Some men experience erectile dysfunction during their partners’ treatment for gynecologic cancers. This can happen because men may be worried about hurting their partners or they know that their partners are scared of pain, weak, or tired. It can help to speak to your doctor or other men with partners enrolled in the Woman to Woman program about this issue.
- Keep in mind that intimacy during and after treatment need not always involve sexual intercourse or orgasm.
Women who are diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer before entering natural menopause may assume they will lose the ability to bear children after treatment. But in some cases, your loved one’s fertility can be preserved. If having children is important her, encourage her to inquire about fertility preservation techniques prior to treatment and to seek the guidance of a reproductive specialist. Women with some gynecologic cancers may be able to have children later by means of alternative methods.