Having treatment to a part of the body that’s normally associated only with the most intimate and private areas of our lives can bring up all kinds of feelings. These range from shame to fear and anger.
It may take some months before you really begin to enjoy sex again after treatment. Don’t be surprised if you feel very unsure about it. Remember that you need to look after yourself and allow yourself time to heal. Talk to your partner if you have one, and be as honest as you can about what you want and don’t want. It’s fine to say no to any kind of sexual contact that doesn’t feel right.
Some women find that, at first, intercourse isn’t physically possible because of the way their vulva has healed after treatment. For example, there may be some tightening or scar tissue from either surgery or radiotherapy. There are a number of things that can help with this, so it’s important to mention it to your specialist nurse or medical team if you’re affected.
The treatment may have brought about changes in how your genital area looks or feels. Many women worry that if their clitoris has been removed then they won’t be able to have orgasms. This isn’t necessarily the case, although you may need to be patient while exploring different ways to reach a climax. Your doctor or nurse may be able to discuss this with you. You may also wish to speak to a sex therapist or counsellor who’s experienced in this area. Our cancer support specialists , or the British Association of Sexual and Relationship Therapy can advise you on how to find counselling in your area.
If you have a partner, you may feel worried about being rejected because of the changes to your body. Try to be open and talk to your partner about this. You may be surprised by the amount of tolerance, trust, tenderness and love that exists between you.
However, occasionally difficulties may arise in a relationship. If this happens to you, you may find counselling helpful, either with your partner or on your own. Counselling may make it possible for you and your partner to work through these feelings to a new closeness and understanding. Your doctor or nurse specialist will be able to refer you for counselling.
If you don’t have a partner at the moment, you may feel worried about starting a new relationship in the future. Talk to your nurse specialist about how you’re feeling. They may be able to put you in touch with a woman who has had the same type of treatment. See our list of useful organisations for help.
We have a section on sexuality and cancer that you may find helpful. You may also want to watch our video about coping with sexual changes.