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Awkward Auntie Question No. 5

libido after young adult cancer

Ever had a question about relationships or sex that you just can’t ask your oncology care provider?  Ever felt too shy to ask a nurse or doctor a question but really need the answer?  Now you can ask those questions and get answers from Dr. Anne Katz, the Awkward Auntie!

Q: I have zero sex drive. None. My only desire to do it is so that my poor long-suffering partner isn’t doomed to a sex-free existence. How do I build this into my routine again? For a long time the act itself was very painful, now its less so but I just feel uncomfortable and unengaged.

Awkward Auntie: This is a common question; loss of desire (also called libido) is the most common complaint I hear in my therapy practice. Desire is a delicate thing and particularly in women, can be lost (and gained) with the slightest change in how we see ourselves, our relationship, if we’ve had a stressful day etc. It is VERY common for women who have gone through the kind of treatment you had to lose interest, and feel bad about it.

Our thinking about female desire has changed over the last 10 years or so. We used to assume that women, like men, should or do have feelings of desire all the time, what we call spontaneous desire…. but our more current thinking is that for many women, desire is REACTIVE, that is our desire kicks in once we become aroused (physically or mentally). So if you sit around waiting to feel spontaneous desire, you may be sitting around for a long time… So if your partner is understanding and patient, ‘fooling around’ with no end goal (sex) as the target may ignite your desire.

That said, you have been through a LOT – and the pain or discomfort you are left with will of course impact on your desire….the disengagement you describe may have something to do with the disengagement you had to take on to get through the treatments that are violating for many women. In order to be sexually responsive your head needs to be connected to your body and sensations – this is the OPPOSITE of what you needed to do when going through treatment! Using a good lube may help with some of the discomfort as radiation dries out the tissues and you may need some local estrogen as well.

Seeing a sexuality counselor who knows about cancer might be a good idea as well as seeing a GYN who knows about the treatment you have had.

You can learn more about this great program, find the answers to past questions, and submit a question of your own by going here!

More about the Awkward Auntie program:

Dr. Anne Katz, also known as the Awkward Auntie, is a certified sexuality counselor and nurse who has written a couple of books about young adults and cancer – and all the things that happen to your body, relationships, and sex during and after treatment.  She will be answering any and all questions that you send to or that you submit in the form below. You don’t have to give your name or other identifying information – but it might be helpful for her to know how you identify yourself by gender, your age and what kind of cancer and treatment you had.

YOU CAN ASK HER ANYTHING…. Don’t hold back!  Your questions will be answered periodically and posted on our Awkward Auntie page.