Changes in desire for sexual or intimate contact are common in those experiencing cancer.
Although there are no right or wrong levels of desire, changes in desire can be distressing, perhaps because desire is different than it used to be, or there is a discrepancy in desire between partners.
Fortunately, there are many ways to work with changes in desire, whether that means enhancing our desire or learning ways to have a fulfilling sexual life with the changes in desire.
Read on for five strategies on how to navigate these changes, on your own or with partners:
- Focus on what feels good, avoid what hurts.
When we have repeated experiences of pain, our bodies start to expect pain. Most of the time, we do not desire things that we expect will hurt. Although there is a lot of messaging out there about pushing through pain, this often causes more harm than help. Instead, focusing on activities and experiences that feel good and that bring pleasure, joy, or closeness can help to create positive sexual experiences.
- Plan ahead.
In the movies, most sexual encounters are portrayed as spontaneous, but this is not always the case in reality! For many of us, desire is often not spontaneous, but instead show up after we begin to engage sexually. If we wait for desire to show up out of the blue, we might be waiting a long time. Although planning for sexual activity and touch may not sound very sexy, it allows us to prepare and be thoughtful about what we need and want to have a positive and satisfying experience. This might look like creating an environment that’s comfortable, or perhaps engaging in relaxation ahead of time. When we plan for sexual activity, we can curate experiences that feel good and make space for desire to show up.
3. Increase touch.
Engage in more daily touch, including touch that is not intended to be sexual. This can be touch with yourself or with partners. This could include cuddling, holding hands, kissing, massage, and more. Engaging in touch throughout the day can help us feel more connected with ourselves and with partners. If this is with a partner, be sure to communicate about any boundaries for touch you do not want, as well as requests for touch you do want.
4. Drop the fore-, just play.For some people, desire for any kind of sexual contact is impacted by worry that they will be expected to engage in a particular kind of activity that does not work for them. Dropping expectations of what sex and sexuality “should” look like, and focusing on pleasure, exploration, or connection, can help build interest and desire. Activities that are often labelled as “fore-play”, such as cuddling, kissing, and massage, can be satisfying on their own. Try exploring what touch feels good for you now, without adding the pressure of needing to get somewhere. If this is with a partner, be sure to communicate about boundaries and wants.
5. Engage in mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the practice of anchoring ourselves in the present, often by bringing focus to our five senses and what we are experiencing in the moment. It is easy to distract ourselves with to-do lists or worries, and to miss what is going on right here, right now. Being mindful during our sexual and intimate interactions with ourselves and others can support us to notice, appreciate, and fully experience sensation, pleasure, and connection.
To learn more:
Come to our Sexual Well-being and Cancer workshop, next offering on: August 3rd, 2023.
Try reading the below books, written by experts in the field of sexuality, desire, and creating positive sexual experiences:
- Better sex through mindfulness: How women can cultivate desire, by Dr. Lori Brotto
- Come as you are: Revised and updated: The surprising new science that will transform your sex life, by Dr. Emily Nagoski
- Magnificent sex: Lessons from extraordinary lovers, by Dr. Peggy Kleinplatz and Dr. Dana Menard