DID YOU SEE: New York Times on sex after cancer

Following on the heels of my last post, I was struck by an article that Susan Gubar published in the New York Times about how cancer patients deal with developing or maintaining a sex life after their diagnosis. Gubar knows whereof she speaks, having been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and written a lot about the subject. What impressed me about the article is how the cancer patients she talks about articulate a broader sex of what constitutes sex beyond intercourse-to-ejaculation.

We all have limitations in our capacity to engage in pleasurable and satisfying sex, even though we may be reluctant to admit it. But for cancer patients, there’s no getting around the reality of facing those limitations head on. Everybody handles the situation in their own way. Reviewing a new book called “Sex and Cancer” by gynecologic cancer specialist Saketh R. Guntupalli and Maryann Karinch, Gubar writes:

The capacious term “sex” should not be conflated with penetration or intercourse, according to Dr. Guntupalli and Ms. Karinch. “There is no dysfunction if both members of the couple are happy with the level and style of intimacy they enjoy.” Kissing, hand-holding, cuddling, caressing and massaging bond couples by kindling arousal and ardor. The authors do not mention the useful word “frottage” which comes from the French for rubbing or friction; it neatly bundles together many forms of stimulation that prompt tenderness and excitement.

Gubar goes on to mention her cancer support group and the wide range of challenges its members deal with on a daily basis when it comes to sex and intimacy.

The youngest member of my support group nevertheless found herself “less easily aroused and less orgasmic.” Her explanation of how she cultivated “the art of desire” strikes me as illuminating for women and also for men. She uses exercise to appreciate her body’s tremendous resilience; acknowledges that she is anatomically, psychologically and hormonally changed; experiments with solo sex and also extended foreplay with her partner; and samples the shared stimulation of movies, concerts and travels to create a sense of closeness. Since her marital bed had been her sick bed, she refurbished the bedroom with sensory stimulants. It now promotes joy in her partner’s life and in hers as well.

Check out the whole article online here and let me know what you think.