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“How is Your Vagina?”

Updated: Dec 15, 2022


Doctor's hands on table facing cancer patient

I want you to picture this scene - I've just started back exercising after nine months out of the gym due to my hysterectomy and chemo. I'm looking forward to getting back, but have been told to take it easy, so aqua aerobics is a great starting point for me to ease back in.


A chemo buddy (breast cancer) agreed to join me. We donned our cozzies and hit the pool with all the 'aqua nannas'.


We were excited to catch up, so much that we upset some of the regulars with our excited chatting. Half way through a vigorous set of aquatic side leg lifts, chemo buddy turns to be and asks "How is your vagina?". I thought I misheard so asked her to repeat herself, louder this time she says "How is your vagina? Mine is whack. It's so dry and sex is painful".


Remember the 'aqua nannas' we upset? Yep still there!


Their reactions amused me, but it also got me thinking about the sexual side of life and cancer treatments. The changes in your appearance and physical side effects can really put a dampener on your sexy time so I wanted to cover some of that here.


Let's talk about Sex

I'll get straight into it - Chemo isn't sexy.

It might leave you feeling slightly less hot under the collar than usual. Body changes, hormonal changes and side effects of chemo such as fatigue & nausea can all bring your love life to a grinding halt.

Hormonal changes can cause vaginal dryness which can make sex painful.


In addition to this about half of women are sexually active after surgical treatment for certain cancers (such as ovarian or cervical) with around 40-80% of women reporting pain during sex (dyspareunia) and vaginal dryness (60–80%). Unfortunately some women feel they are unable to bring this up or health professionals fail to address it, so women are often left trying to figure it out for themselves.


This is what my chemo buddy wanted to discuss during aqua. Talking to someone who is going through the same as you can make you feel less alone, so don't feel afraid to bring it up with a trusted friend who will understand (maybe just try to have less nannas around!).


Chemotherapy can wreak havoc on your body and your ovaries may be damaged. Ovarian cancer patients may have to have their ovaries removed, this will put them straight into medical menopause (that would be me). As a result, the amount of estrogen (also referred to as oestrogen) and progesterone produced by your ovaries could drop or cease altogether.


This drop in estrogen may only be temporary (unless your ovaries have been removed) but it can cause vaginal problems until your ovaries 'wake up' again. If the amount of estrogen in your body decreases, the amount of vaginal lubrication you produce also drops, this can lead to painful sex if not managed correctly. As I was put straight onto HRT (also known as hormone therapy (HT) or menopausal hormone therapy (MHT)) I haven’t experienced these particular side effects but it can be very common.


To avoid discomfort make sure you aren't rushing into penetration so you give your body the best chance of producing lubrication. This is a fabulous excuse to focus on foreplay - and lots of it.

Water based vaginal lubricants are going to be your new best friend!

If you haven't needed to use these before, talk to your partner to help them understand what is happening for you and how this will improve your love life.


Some lubricants to consider are

Latex safe with added vitamin E. Will not harm healthy bacteria or affect pH levels.


A great water based lube that is Glycerin and paraben free.


Everyone knows Durex and this lube is perfect to use with their condoms.


If you are still experiencing pain during sexual intercourse you might also want to consider a vaginal moisturiser. As with the rest of your skin the delicate tissues in your vagina will become dry as a result of chemo. These are special moisturisers that are designed specifically for this sensitive area of the body. Using a vaginal moisturiser every few days can help keep your vagina moist and relieve vaginal dryness symptoms.


Relieves and replenishes dry uncomfortable vaginal skin to make intimacy more comfortable.


Vagisil Soothing Oatmeal Cream, Daily Use Intimate Cream To Sooth & Protect Sensitive Intimate Skin.


Other side effects such as nausea and fatigue can also mean your labido takes a hit. Talking to your partner is so important to manage the emotions around this. Explain how you are feeling, tell them what you need in terms of support and let them know what level of affection you are currently comfortable with.

Letting them know you are still attracted to them but just need time to adjust to how your body is feeling can also help manage feelings of rejection.


A lubricant I usually recommend is Olive & Bee (we use this at the Oncology & Women's Health clinic I work at in


If you find yourself needing to talk to someone after reading this article you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or The Cancer Council on 13 11 20


 

Top Choices


Other products to help you navigate sex during cancer.



The Menopause Book

If your treatment puts you into medical menopause this book with help you navigate this new phase in your life.


Click to purchase



Menopause Supplements

If you need help managing hot flushes due to medical menopause these supplements may help rebalance your hormones. As with any supplements do not take these without consulting with your oncology team.


Click to purchase



Aromatherapy Massage Oil

If you aren't feeling up to full intimacy you may want to explore other ways to be close to your partner. A sensual massage will not only make you feel great but allow you to connect with your partner when sex just isn't on the menu.


Click to purchase

Support Resources

Cancer Council Australia

CCA an organisation to support all Australians affected by cancer through support, research and prevention programs.


Ovarian Cancer Australia

OCA is an independent national not-for-profit organisation, supporting women diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Our focus is to provide care and support for those affected by ovarian cancer; and represent them by leading change. Our vision is to save lives and ensure no woman with ovarian cancer walks alone.


Breast Cancer Network Australia

BCNA Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) is Australia’s leading breast cancer consumer organisation. We have worked tirelessly to ensure that all Australians who are affected by breast cancer receive the very best care, treatment and support.


Bowel Cancer Australia

BCA Peer-to-Peer Support Network connects patient’s and loved ones on a one-to-one buddy basis that enables members to give and receive advice about their bowel cancer experience in an informal and mutually beneficial way.


Leukaemia Foundation

LF is a support service for patients and supporters dealing with blood cancers.


*FU Cancer is supported by its audience. If you choose to purchase through the links on our site we may receive an affiliate commission. This goes towards paying our expenses plus a percentage of our monthly profit goes towards directly helping people with cancer. If you know someone who could do with a boost during their cancer treatment please let us know here.



*FU Cancer is supported by its audience. If you choose to purchase through the links on our site we may receive an affiliate commission. This goes towards paying our expenses plus a percentage of our monthly profit goes towards directly helping people with cancer. If you know someone who could do with a boost during their cancer treatment please let us know here.





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