When a woman has vulval cancer, the issue of sex is often forgotten about in a bid to save her life and the first priority is treatment. But once treatment is over what happens to her relationship? Is intimacy over forever after vulval cancer? It will be more challenging, but most survivors of female genital cancers can continue to have a sex life.
If surgery has been done, there will be pain and soreness for several weeks while the scarring heals. It takes about 8 weeks post-surgery for a complete physical recovery and it’s advisable to wait until then before intercourse is attempted. Most women, however, wait far longer because sex can still be painful at that stage and they may not feel emotionally ready.
Sometimes scar tissue may form as the area heals and this could prevent intercourse from taking place. There are things that can be done to remedy this so it’s important to mention it to a nurse or doctor.
The emotional scars of surgery and cancer last much longer than the physical pain. Depending on what has been done, the woman may have to cope with losing her vulva and maybe even her clitoris and have problems with her body image.
Some women describe feeling like they are ‘half a woman’ or feeling as if they have no gender. These types of feelings are normal and part of a grieving process.
Some may be worried that their partner won’t find them attractive.
Partners of women affected by vulval cancer may be too afraid of hurting them to attempt intercourse.
Recovery from Chemotherapy
If chemotherapy or radiotherapy has been done, then the woman will have to recover from the effects of this too. She may feel exhausted all the time, feel sick, or have secondary illnesses due to a weakened immune system that lower her libido and make her too tired to be intimate. Being given time to recover from these side-effects is vital.
A qualified sex therapist or marriage counselor can help explore any issues regarding body image and help the couple find ways to enjoy intimacy together, for instance, alternative means of reaching orgasm without clitoral stimulation.