Let’s Talk About Sex and Cancer

Older Couple Being Intimate

Sex is a natural part of everyone’s life, but discussing it can be cumbersome for some adults, especially when one of them is diagnosed with a debilitating cancer like mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma can affect so many aspects of emotional and physical intimacy that most couples find they need to have honest conversations. Misunderstandings can develop when couples don’t openly discuss what hurts, what doesn’t and how they are making their partner feel during sex.

Side effects of treatments, such as surgery and chemotherapy, may cause cancer patients discomfort, making sex painful or impossible. That also raises fears in their partners who think they may hurt their loved ones when initiating sex.

Some couples dealing with mesothelioma in their lives don’t necessarily miss intercourse. They may long for the foreplay — hugging, kissing or cuddling — but don’t know how to bring up the subject.

The good news is there are tips that may serve as conversation starters for couples who don’t know how to approach this delicate moment.

Starting the Conversation

It may be difficult at first to bring up the topic of intimacy and sex with your partner.

These conversation starters are not judgmental. They provide each person the opportunity to openly share feelings without expectations or blame.

Here are some suggestions on how to start that conversation:

  • “Our lives have changed so much since I was diagnosed with mesothelioma. I miss feeling close to you physically.”
  • “It seems like all we talk about anymore is cancer. I feel like we have lost ourselves as a couple.”
  • “Is it just me or do you miss the way our sex life used to be?”

Prepare Yourself

Write down what you want to say to your partner and practice if you are initially uncomfortable talking about sexuality.

Here are some more tips for talking about sex and intimacy with our partner:

  • Some people are not comfortable using sexual terms in conversations. Practice saying the words aloud until it feels more comfortable. Try to avoid slang terms or euphemisms for body parts or sexual activities as it can lead to misunderstandings.
  • Let your partner know when something hurts.
  • Be honest about problems with sexual function, such as erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness or fatigue, and be open to trying new things to minimize these problems.

There is no “perfect time” to talk about sex when battling a serious illness like mesothelioma. But, try to pick a time when both of you are relaxed and choose a neutral location to talk. Conversations about sex do become easier over time.

Learning to talk about sex and intimacy can actually have the effect of bringing a couple closer.

  1. Cancer.net. (n.d.) Dating and Intimacy. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.net/coping-and-emotions/sexual-and-reproductive-health/dating-and-intimacy
  2. National Cancer Institute. (2013, December 9). Sexuality and Reproductive Issues. Retrieved http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/sexuality/Patient

Dana Nolan, MS, LMHC, is a licensed mental health counselor who leads The Mesothelioma Center’s monthly support group. She specializes in working with individuals affected by cancer. Dana practices in Altamonte Springs, Fla.

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