This post is full of ideas.

Want to have more pleasure in your life after cancer? Of course, you do! Who doesn’t want more pleasure? I’m glad that you are ready to have more, or at least want to know more, about pleasure after cancer. This blog post will guide you to explore some easy ways of reconnecting sexually to yourself and to your partner.

My wish is that you bypass the myths that hold you tight and prevent you from experiencing pleasure again. Let’s face it there are a lot of myths and misinformation out there because not a lot of healthcare providers are talking about sex after cancer or during cancer treatment. There is a paucity of information and conversation about what that may look like. So I’m writing this to share what I know about sex after cancer, which is a huge and varied subject as each cancer and treatment has it’s own side effects, but I’ve got some good ideas. For the past few years, I’ve taught a class that helps women reimagine their bodies and reconnect to themselves sexually after cancer. I’ve done a lot of research, learned a lot, and have listened to many women tell their stories. For me, the latter was the real learning.

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What I do know and what I advocate as a sex therapist, is that intimate connections increase our well-being. Hormones that increase our quality of life, like oxytocin- the bonding hormone, can be released after a few seconds from a hug with a loved one.

What does oxytocin do? Well, the role of oxytocin in our lives is about attachment. When a mother breastfeeds her child and when she is giving birth, oxytocin is released. In childbirth, it helps the uterus contract to open the cervix and to allow the baby to pass through the birth canal. Women aren’t the sole beneficiaries of oxytocin. Men also experience oxytocin release when ejaculating. This same hormone is released after hugging a loved one. It is reinforcing attachment and we may feel relaxed or connected to our loved one during this hug. Oxytocin helps us feel more generous, altruistic, calm, closer to others, and eases stress. Those are all good feelings. These benefits are so powerful that oxytocin has also been used in studies to help people overcome drug addiction, as well as improve people’s social skills.

Sexual intimacy boosts the production of healthy hormones. One of the activities that I ask couples to practice is Dr. David Schnarch’s Hugging until Relaxed– (it’s number three on this list. All the suggestions in this list are great, but I like to start with #3 because most people can easily do this.) In my practice, I’ve been using this as both a diagnostic and a tool for increased intimacy for years. Essentially, it is an exercise where you relax yourself, maybe by taking a few full, deep body breaths, and then embrace your loved one. You may experience a natural resistance, but the process is to bypass the usual ideas of when it’s over, and try to melt into the experience. This is different than how we hug on a regular basis because this exercise is about creating more awareness. For example, when the hug ends, I like for people to observe the following:

  • Who ended it?
  • How did you know when it was over?
  • What did you notice in your body?
  • What did you notice in your partner’s body?
  • Were you relaxed? How long did it take to get relaxed?
  • How do you feel now?
  • How does this compare to when you began?

What I’ve seen is that couples who practice this regularly are experiencing the benefits of oxytocin release and are more likely to engage in further sexual activity. Try it out. I’d love to hear what you discover.

Thanks for reading this blog post. I look forward to sending you the Four Myths about Sex after Cancer so we can dispel those, just remember to sign up here.

All the best,

Tara Galeano

Boulder Sex Therapy

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