Surgery alone is extremely daunting, let alone dealing with cancer, chronic illness or rare diseases so having worries about how it might affect your sex life is not something at the forefront of your mind. Many of us are afraid to ask about sex and intimacy with medical professionals (MP). Sex as a discussion topic has increasingly become less of a taboo in society (THANK GOODNESS!) however, a lot of people find it easy to bring up with their closest friends but how come there is still a barrier with MP's?
When you go for a check-up with your doctor, nurse or health care professional (HCP) – sure you talk about the tests, medications and symptoms but when in that small time do you bring up the fact that your chronic illness, cancer or rare disease has impacted on your sex life?
This isn't something which is YOUR fault for not mentioning. It is just something which is regularly overlooked by all involved. Some MP's are fabulous at talking about it, usually when they have had training in the subject or if they are very comfortable talking about sex anyway but what about the ones that you don’t have a close relationship with? Or when you are sent to the duty doctor? Or you have an appointment with the new registrar? It can be downright hard talking about your personal problems and you are not alone.
So, you've had surgery, healed and starting to come to terms with changes to your body but now you’re toying with the idea of starting a new relationship, having sex with your partner or maybe you just WANT SEX (Guess what, thats okay too!). Where do you start with getting to know how your body may have changed physically and emotionally in regard to sex?
Get to know yourself again….
Yes, I said it! Now is the perfect time to get acquainted with yourself again. However, be sure to listen to your body. You may be wanting it badly but your body may not quite ready so take it SLOW and trust how you feel. Take this time to HAVE fun in exploring to see what works for you. Break out the toys, sensual music, candles whatever works for you….
So before delving into it, sometimes some surgery can cause adhesions, especially if like me you have had a proctectomy (removal of rectum). Adhesions can occur for many reasons however, specifically after invasive abdominal/rectal surgery, they can cause narrowing of the vagina and can cause problems with how your womb is now positioned. Therefore, certain positions may be uncomfortable for you and if you have narrowing of your vagina this can make penetration painful in some cases. To explore all these aspects in a safe way, do this yourself. Use toys or your fingers to see if something is painful, or not quite the same or just as pleasurable as before!
1. Take it slow
2. Try different positions, find what works for you. Get that karma sutra book out for masturbation! No shame in that.
3. Try to ascertain if there is a problem and if it is actually physical? Or maybe psychological?
A lot of barriers after surgery are psychological, which once you’ve overcome by getting to know your body, you should be on your way to having amazing sex again! If you have noticed a slight change, something is painful, or a certain position is sore then be sure to bring this up with a trusted medical professional. Do not keep it quiet, you may be causing more damage, or you may need further investigations and advice as sex should ALWAYS be enjoyable!
No shame in bringing it up….
As mentioned above sex and intimacy can be overlooked at times. It isn’t usually something brought up in a pre-op appointment by your surgeon, however post-op follow ups are the perfect time to bring up your worries or bring your concerns to light. You’re there to report how your recovery is going and YES this involves EVERY aspect of your recovery! Try to open the conversation and let them run with it If you are worried. Here are some great opening lines:
1. I have been wanting sex, however I have noticed quite a bit of pain – explain where and then wait… they should lead with questions
2. Is it safe to have sex?
3. I have been worried about having sex…
4. I want to be intimate with my partner, but I noticed….
Any of these are fine to lead with and completely NORMAL to ask. Once you bring it up with your MP you will wonder why you were so worried, they are trained in dealing with these problems. If they don’t know, they refer to someone who does!
Another MP who is a wealth of knowledge is your stoma nurse, now these guys…. these guys are awesome!! If it is related to surgery around ostomy formation there is not a lot they don’t know – I spoke to mine about sex, very openly and expressed all of my worries. Personally, I struggled with pain in certain positions, but after talking these through, exploring and getting to know my body again, I now know what works and what doesn’t.
There should never be shame in sex….
Getting to know your body, what you enjoy and dealing with any changes are all very normal and should not be shamed. There's nothing wrong with knowing about sex, communicating about it, wanting it, and having it consensually with whoever you want. That is unequivocally your right. So, if you feel something isn’t right, please bring it up at your next appointment. Just breathe easy, know that what you are asking is not “mad” or “irrelevant”, it is all relevant and an important part in all of our lives!
Here are some excellent guides on sex and intimacy, please let me know of any amazing guides or advice sites and I will add them!