Sexuality-MW: The Emotion
The Medicine Wheel: Sexuality and Intimacy's
Impact on Emotions

Medicine WheelSpritualPhysicalEmotionalMental
This section describes several of the emotional affects you may have from changes in your sexuality.

    What emotional effects might I have because of changes in my sexuality?
    Lorecita Quintana
    Santo Domingo Pueblo
    Dx 1989 Colon Cancer

    "There was a lot of people, you know, that helped me along during that time. One of my, the person that comes to my mind is my partner. I think that if it wasn't for him, who knows what we went through, you know, and it was just very hard, very hard. Like I said if it wasn't for him to be there, you know, emotionally, and physically. I don't think I could have pulled this off by myself. There was another friend of ours, who is a very close friend of the family who also was there for me, and just helped me out a lot."
    to play Video Vignette - click audio only

    Esterlene Gee
    Muskogee / Creek
    Dx 2002 Breast Cancer

    ""I had this one friend that I had started dating after my husband had died. And when I had the breast cancer I told him, I said, you better find somebody else, you know, and he said no. He said, "I don't you know? I don't run out on people, when they need me", and so he took me to the radiation treatments along with I had friends to that did that."
    to play Video Vignette - click audio only

    • Some may feel anxious, frightened or fearful because you do not know how long changes to your sexuality may last or you are worried you partner may not be interested in you anymore.
      • These feelings may lead to decreased arousal or interest in sexual activities.
    • Some may feel frustrated and angry because your life, including your sex life, has changed. You have to figure a "new normal."
    • Some may be having cancer or treatment-related side effects that leave you fatigued or unable to sleep or think clearly.
    • Some may be feeling strong or empowered because:
      • You are using strategies to maintain your sexuality.
      • You and/or your family are meeting with your traditional spiritual healer more often and getting into better spiritual balance.
      • You are eating and exercising everyday to maintain/improve your health.
    • Some may be upset about how your body has changed during your cancer treatment or how others are reacting to the changes in your body.
    • Some may have mood swings (sudden depression, fatigue, anger)
    • Some may feel that worrying about sexuality is silly or not important in the face of being cured of your cancer.
    • Some may be envious of others who are healthy or who do not have to deal with cancer treatment and all the other difficulties you are facing.
      • Some may be sad, depressed, angry or feel a deep sense of loss about no longer being able to have children
      • You may feel less like a woman; less feminine or less a man; less masculine

    CeCe Whitewolf
    Confederated Tribes of Umatilla
    Dx 1998 Breast Cancer

    "We need to talk about, you know I'm going to say things that might be embarrassing to people, buts that's OK because I need you to listen to me. One of the things that has happened because of my chemo, is Ron and I… sexual activity has really changed from what it was before we went though this journey with cancer. We used to be a very sexually active couple, that's what attracted us to each other long time ago, 25 years ago, and we're still sexually active now, but it's not the same. It's not the same, not because I lost the breast, Ron told me one time, in fact I was giving a talk. I explained to him I said well, people were worried Ron that you would see me differently as a person who wasn't very sexual. And I said you've always been a boob man Ron, and he laughed and he said, "CeCe, I've only got one mouth, and you've only got one boob now so we have no more problems." So, you know, having one boob is no biggie as far as Ron's concerned and no biggie as far as I'm concerned, either."
    to play Video Vignette - click audio only

    How can my relationships be changed by cancer?

    • Being ill with cancer or any other disease can change your relationships
    • Worry, fear, anger, and increased stress are common when you are diagnosed with cancer
    • Usually, if a relationship was good before you were diagnosed with cancer, it will stay god. If you were having problems before your diagnosis, they often get worse, or at least do not get better.
    • Your role in your family may change. Others may need to do the things you usually do. This can be due to being in the hospital, being fatigued, or having nausea or pain. When family and friends offer to help, let them.
    • Know that some may want to take care of you and not let you do anything. This can make you feel unneeded
    • Ask people to do specific things for you like picking up your children after school or cleaning your bathrooms. Most will be glad to have something specific to do.
    • Your future plans may need to change. This could be anything from having a child to taking a vacation to the job that you have.
    • Oftentimes your relationships with your friends change. Some who were close will drift away. Others will remain close. Others who were not close friends may become close as you go through treatment. These people usually remain close friends after treatment as well.

    Abe Conklin
    Dx 1987 Prostate Cancer

    "My wife was very, how would you say . . . was very helpful, in her ways of being helpful to me. She stuck by me, she made me go to the doctors. She stuck by me when I went to the hospital, through surgery. So she was a very helpful, caring person and I appreciated it. She stuck by me, always through it."

    Bonnie Craig
    Dx 1991 Ovarian Cancer

    When something like cancer occurs in an Indian family, you deal with the extended family. You also deal with your core family. The core family, I think, is surrounded and protected by this larger extended family. My news of being diagnosed with cancer was the same as death occurring in our family system. My husband's younger than me. We're very close, and the day that I had to go home and walk in the door and tell him what the doctor said, you know, I wish that I didn't have to see that look on his face because it was absolute fear. Because he asked me, "You're going to live, aren't you." And nobody knows that.
    to play Video Vignette - click audio only

    What are some important things to know if I have a partner?

    • Even though you are the person with cancer, it may be your partner who has problems with sex
    • Sometimes your partner may be concerned about you and the changes happening to you and loose interest in sex
    • Sometimes your partner may be afraid that cancer can be spread through sexual contact
    • Your partner may be afraid to touch you for fear of causing pain or harm
    • You partner also may not understand that your decrease in interest in sex is due to your cancer or cancer treatment and not your lack of interest in your partner
    • Your partner's sexual drive may have changed or may even be increased. You should talk about the differences in your present interest in sex and find ways to satisfy each person's sexual needs within your relationship (such as cuddling or touching without intercourse)
    • If you have fatigue, you may wish to look at different positions for intercourse or choose a time of day when you are less tired.
    • You should plan to take your pain or nausea medicine before you begin sexual activities

    Patricia Horse Johnson
    Dx 1985 Breast Cancer

    "Martin is very, very supportive. He was just really in full support of me. Went into the hospital with me and never left until I came out. He carried me very well through that first experience with breast cancer. It was something that neither one of us had ever even dreamed would touch us but at the same time, he was there when I needed him. The rest of my family, they were just going along with whatever we wanted to do and we're a praying family, so they would gather around and have a round of prayers."

    southwestern tribe
    Dx 1995 Breast Cancer

    "...the partners out there and the people that are, that are behind the actual person that's going through that, need to be applauded. Because they're the ones that are strong. If they can stand by that person and help them endure everything that they'll go through, they're the ones that are strong."

    What can my partner do to help me?

    • Your partner can help you by:
    • Showing love and affection
    • Talking with you about your interest and feelings about sexuality
    • Taking cues from you and letting you go at your own pace
    • Showing you affection in other ways than having intercourse such as cuddling, holding, hugging, and touching.
    • Working with you to manage changes and find solutions
    • Seeing a counselor together (as needed/desired)

    What can I do to help myself?

    • Remember that:
      • You are loved for who you are, not just your appearance
      • We are all sexual beings
      • Survival often overshadows sexuality
      • Sharing feelings is important
      • Expect the unexpected
      • Give yourself time; be patient
      • Share what you want to share when you are ready
      • Take the pressure off intercourse, try touching, just being together
      • Do not let your diagnosis dictate what you can do sexually, do what feels right
      • Plan sex around your changing energy levels
      • Ask for help if/when you need it
      • Stay as physically fit as possible
      • Eat well
      • Get plenty of sleep
      • Be open to possibilities
      • Do not be afraid to try something new
      • Look for/try to maintain a sense of humor
      • Trust in yourself and your partner
      • Use plenty of water-soluble lubrication
      • Do not forget to use birth control and protective measures that fit for your age and lifestyle
      • Remember that sexual toys/devices may be good to add to your normal activities

    What if I don't have a partner?

    • Even if you do not have a partner, you can still have a personal sex life
    • If you have a new relationship, you may wish to start slowly and then build your relationship
    • If you want to have a new relationship, you will have to decide when to talk about your cancer and what you want to share. It may be best to wait until you are sure that the relationship is more than just a date. It is up to you (some tell on the first date; others wait until they are closer to having intercourse).
    • You may wish to practice what you want to say before you say it
    • If the relationship does not work out, do not assume it is because of your cancer. Not every relationship works out even without a cancer diagnosis.
    • Use your family or friends for love and support through the cancer experience. You need to feel cared for even if you are not in a sexual relationship with someone.

    Dilly Adsuna
    Alaska Native
    Dx 2003 Breat Cancer

    "So I went through my treatment alone, and that was the hardest, hardest thing to do. I think for someone to go through chemo treatment and radiation it would be very good if they had… have somebody there with them."
    to play Video Vignette - click audio only

    southwestern tribe
    Dx 1995 Breast Cancer

    "… this an experience that would help my friends understand and my family understand what I was going through because I couldn't verbalize it, I couldn't tell them how much this was hurting me. Even though it wasn't any direct pain, it was the pain inside that was hurting my spirit. So by doing those things, I was getting some help. By having them just touch me, you know, just that that connection. Those are the things that I, I hold precious in my heart"

    What if I am two-spirited (gay, lesbian, transexual)?

    • Having a satisfying sex life is important to all people regardless of whether they have an opposite sex or same sex partner
    • The loss of some sexual function may be difficult, causing sadness, anger and frustration
    • The same concerns that affect an opposite sex partnered relationship or being single will affect the two-spirited person

    Christine Mangiati
    Italian (Non-Native)
    Dx 2003 Breat Cancer

    "I didn't want to touch my breast after it was removed and I am not a vain person. I couldn't touch it. And my surgeon, who is middle eastern, came up to me finally and took my hand and put it on my breast and said touch your breast. It's still your breast, and so, once I got past that and realized this is still a part of my body"
    to play Video Vignette - click audio only

    How do I manage my body image changes?

    • Partially covering your body with clothing or sexy underwear may be easier than being naked
    • Use dim or indirect lighting to mask body changes
    • It may be helpful to face away from your partner
    • Sex may be easier if you are lying on your side (takes the pressure off any scar or a stoma)
    • It may be helpful to look at the changes in your body in little pieces rather than all at once (try removing one piece of clothing at a time, looking and getting comfortable with that part before looking at more of your body; look at your body through a filmy nightgown)
    • You may need to find other ways or areas to be touched and caressed through self-stimulation (touching and looking at your body is really okay)

    How do I resume sexual activities?

    • Be open to change in who starts sexual activities or what positions you use.
    • Take your time to learn/relearn what feels good/gives you pleasure.
    • Start slowly with kissing, cuddling, or touching; over time move to intercourse
    • Talk with your partner about your concerns and what feels good (or does not); listen to your partner's concerns/thoughts
    • Plan sex around when you are less tired; take medications for pain, nausea or other medical problems before becoming intimate
    • Using/sharing sexual fantasies may be helpful
    • Be patient with yourself and your partner; keep trying
    • Maintain a sense of humor
    • Remember problems have solutions
    • Make sure you have privacy but do not be afraid to try other places than usual for sexual activities
    • Do not let embarrassment keep you from trying new things or talking about sex
    • Make sure to use birth control methods that fit for you and your partner (not everyone who has cancer treatment is infertile)
      • Pregnancy during and immediately after cancer treatment should be avoided

    CeCe Whitewolf
    Confederated Tribes of Umatilla
    Dx 1998 Breast Cancer

    "One of the things that the doctors told me about, and again nobody told, tells me this thing I was growing up. I didn't know, one of the reasons I was getting bladder infections, because I'd get bladder infection after Ron and I would have sexual intercourse. And the reason I was getting bladder infections was because I wasn't going to the bathroom, within half an hour of after our sexual intercourse, and I thought that's an interesting and one. A physical P.A. fellow at Kaiser told me go to the bathroom after sexual intercourse. I said Oh, okay so ever since, I've been going to the bathroom after sexual intercourse. I don't get bladder infections."
    to play Video Vignette - click audio only

    Are there times when I should not have intercourse?

    • You should wait at least 6 weeks after pelvic surgery to have intercourse; ask your provider for a specific length of time
    • Either do not have intercourse or be sure to use appropriate birth control method(s) during active cancer treatment (and at for at least one month after completion of therapy)
    • You should avoid sex if your white count or platelet count is low (if you have neutropenia [new-tro-peen-ee-ah] or thrombocytopenia [throm-bow-sigh-toe-peen-ee-ah] or you have bleeding)

    Are there counselors or sex therapists available to help?

    • There are people trained to help you with sexuality problems
    • If you think things are not getting back to normal, you may want to seek professional help
    • Your healthcare provider can give you a recommendation or make an appointment for you.

    top of page