Sexuality and Intimacy Introduction Leaf

This leaf gives you an introduction and overview of sexuality.

What is sexuality?

  • Sexuality is more than just sex.
  • Sexuality includes:
    • feeling attractive and liking the way we look (body image)
    • being able to feel loved or be loving and enjoying touching or caressing
    • being able to have children if desired

  • Sexuality is a person's view of himself or herself as an attractive person who can gain the attention and affection of others
  • Sexuality is a part of every area of our lives
    • it is part of the way we relate to others
    • it is what we believe and how we behave
    • our views are affected by many things and vary over our lives

  • Sexuality is very personal and is different for each person.
  • Sexuality is influenced by many things including religion, culture, age and situation.
  • Your sexuality may be changed by life events such as marriage, illness, money difficulties or where you live.
  • We show our sexuality by what we wear, how we walk or move and in who we have sex with
  • "Normal" sexual relations are whatever is comfortable for you and your partner (if you have one).
  • It is normal for people with cancer to lose interest in sex at times.
  • It is also normal to be interested in sex throughout your life.
  • While many believe that sex is only for the young, many are interested in sex throughout their lives
  • What is body image?
    • Body image is the way you see yourself (fat, thin, pretty) as well as how you think others see you.
    • Body image is the mental picture you have of what you look like.
    • This image may or may not be real (the teenaged girl with an eating disorder may see herself as fat even though she only weights 90 pounds)
    • Our body image changes throughout our lifetime, whether or not we have cancer or get cancer treatment
    • Your body image may be affected by changes in your body's appearance due to:
    • weight loss or gain
    • hair loss (alopecia [al-o-pea-sea-ah])
    • mouth sores (mucositis [mew-co-sigh-tis])
    • extreme tiredness (fatigue)
    • other changes that may or may not be seen by another ( a scar, loss of a breast)

  • How common are sexual problems for cancer survivors?
    • Problems with sexual function, intimacy or the ability to have children in the future are common in people during and following cancer treatment
    • Sexual problems occur in:
      • about half (50%) of women who have breast cancer
      • about half (50%) of those with gynecological [guy-neh-co-loge-ih-cal] cancer (cancer of the ovaries, cervix, and womb)
      • almost three-fourths (70%) of men with prostate cancer will have some problems

    • Problems can affect your desire for sex, your ability to be aroused or your pleasure in sexual activities
    • These problems can be severe and often last a long time.
    • Sometimes other side effects will improve while problems with your sexuality will continue
  • What are the common sexual problems seen in those with cancer?
    • Loss of desire for sex (men and women)
    • Not able to have an erection
    • Pain with sex (women)
    • Trouble reaching orgasm (men and women)
    • Changes in body image due to such things as removal of body parts such as your breast, scars, weight changes, swelling of your arm(s) or leg(s) due to lymph node removal (lymphedema) and hair loss (alopecia)
    • Difficulty touching or being touched
    • Problems talking about sexual needs
    • Not being able to become pregnant or father a child
    • Stress in relationships with sexual partners
  • Who is at risk for sexuality problems?
      Some people with cancer are more likely to have problems with sexuality than others. Those at higher risk are:
    Women Being 30 years of age or older

    Having surgery such as a hysterectomy [hiss-ter-ec-toe-me] for a gynecologic cancer
    Men Being older than 15 years of age

    Having surgery to the testicles or prostate
    Women and Men Getting chemotherapy or radiation therapy

    Getting radiation treatments to your abdomen (ab-dough-men)

    Having surgery to your abdomen, breast and/or the head and neck area

    Taking medications such as drugs to treat depression, high blood pressure, pain, nausea or anxiety

    Having untreated side effects such as fatigue, mouth sores or pain

    Feeling emotional (sad, angry, depressed) about having cancer, losing a body part, having hair loss and/or losing or gaining weight

    Having marital conflict or financial stress

    Having another illness such as diabetes, heart disease or arthritis

    Having poor health habits such as smoking, using alcohol or drugs

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