On SexHealthMatters, we often discuss how cancer and its treatment affect one’s sexual health. (See the links at the bottom of this post to learn more.) Often, a supportive partner plays an important role in sexual recovery after cancer. Usually, the partner has been there from the beginning and has some idea of what to expect going forward.
But what if you’re single?
The idea of dating after cancer may sound overwhelming, especially if you have been out of the dating scene for a while. But there’s no reason you can’t have a satisfying dating life – and sex life – as a cancer survivor.
Just take it step by step.
Are you ready?
During your cancer treatment, dating was probably not your top priority. And you might not feel up to it at first. That’s okay – the timetable is up to you.
Don’t rush into dating because you feel you should. There is nothing wrong with waiting, if that is what feels right to you. But if you do feel like dating, or if you meet someone who interests you, then there’s no reason not to pursue it.
In the age of dating apps, “swiping right,” and “swiping left,” it should seem easy to find potential mates. But sometimes that just isn’t the case.
Some people use dating websites specifically for cancer survivors. In this way, they might meet people who might better understand what they’re going through.
However, meeting partners “the old fashioned way” can be effective, too. Instead of focusing precisely on dating, try just having fun. Take that cooking class you’ve been thinking about, join a Scrabble club or a cosplay group, or volunteer with a cause you’re passionate about. You may meet partners, or you may not. But you will likely make friends who could introduce you to others later on.
Talking about cancer
When should you disclose your cancer situation to a new partner? The answer depends on you. Some people like to discuss cancer early in the relationship, so their partner is aware. Others prefer to wait until they know their new partner better. It’s entirely your call.
If you feel nervous about the conversation, think ahead to what you think your partner should know and what questions they may have. You don’t have to disclose more than you’re comfortable with, but preparing ahead of time can make the conversation go more smoothly. You might try writing down what you’ll say or practicing the dialogue with a friend.
It may also help to seek support from fellow cancer survivors. Ask your doctor about a group that meets in your area or look for one online. Peers can share their experiences with dating and cancer and offer tips for discussing cancer with partners.
Cancer and its treatment can take a toll on sexuality. Men might find it more difficult to achieve firm erections. Women may find intercourse uncomfortable because of vaginal dryness. People often struggle with body image after treatment, and worry that they will not be attractive to a sexual partner.
Don’t hesitate to ask your cancer care team about treatments for sexual problems. For example, ED can be treated, and vaginal lubricants and moisturizers may alleviate discomfort during intercourse.
You might also consider seeing a sex therapist who specializes in cancer care. A professional can help you navigate these changes, rebuild your sexual self-esteem, and offer practical suggestions to try in the bedroom.
When you’re ready to become intimate, be honest with your partner about any sexual concerns you have. If you are self-conscious about surgical scars, be open about it. If a specific sexual position is uncomfortable, try suggesting an alternative. If you need more time to get aroused, explain your situation and tell your partner how you enjoy being touched.
Chances are, your partner will appreciate your openness and reassure you that everything is okay. Remember, your partner wants to be intimate with you.
If it doesn’t work out…
If your first attempt at dating doesn’t work out, don’t give up. Sometimes, people just don’t click. That’s true regardless of whether someone has had cancer.
Don’t let cancer prevent you from having a fulfilling relationship. When you’re ready, just try again.
“Dating and New Relationships: During and After Cancer”
(Last updated: June 5, 2019)
“Dating After Cancer: How Men and Women Navigate a New Reality”
(July 10, 2019)