Better Sexual Communication

Talking about sex can feel challenging, as it is very personal to our sense of self, identity, and relationship with others. As you review this document, keep in mind that exploring issues of sex, especially with another person, can feel vulnerable. Give yourself time and grace to consider the following suggestions.

Iris Mental Health Therapists are available to support you and your loved ones coping with issues around cancer. 

Couples who can talk openly and directly about sexual activities and intimacy tend to have an easier time coping with changes from cancer treatment. If cancer has changed your sexual response, you and your partner could try changing your sexual routine. If you are starting out with a new partner, it is also important to express your needs and to understand your partner’s attitudes. 

Your body is personal and private to you, and you should only engage in behaviors that feel comfortable.  

Here are some suggestions that can help you communicate your sexual needs and concerns: 

  • Take some time to reflect on how cancer has changed your relationship to your body and your sexual reactions. How has your connection to your body changed? How might your emotions impact your mindset to be physically intimate with another person? 

  • Consider sharing this information with your partner. Remember that you don’t have to share everything – only share what you are comfortable with right now. 

  • Give your partner an opportunity to think about whether their experience with sex has shifted now that cancer is in your lives.  

  • Remember to be patient with the process of talking about sexual needs and concerns. Remind yourself that this is a sensitive topic that can bring up different emotions including fear, excitement, frustration, and gratitude.  

  • Consider the timing and environment of approaching this conversation with your partner – think about your current mood and setting. Perhaps carving out some time to talk freely and openly in a comfortable setting is a good start.  

  • Consider starting the conversation with something positive to say about your partner and how they make you feel. 

  • Start the conversation with one or two specific concerns. Give your partner some time to absorb this information and to respond. Try to remember to maintain empathy and grace while you have this conversation as it can be emotional for you and your partner. 

  • If you and your partner have different preferences with regards to the timing or variety of sex, consider if you can come to a compromise that feels good to both of you. 

  • If it is hard to explain your needs in words, ask if you can guide your partner the next time you are sexually active. You can point out new places to caress or a different style of touching. It may help to put your hand on top of your partner’s or to ask your partner to rest a hand on top of your hand as you touch yourself.  

  • Sometimes we may have to be direct and clear about what we want or don’t want and what feels good and not so good. While this type of communication may feel uncomfortable, it may be necessary to help your partner understand your preferences. For example, it may be helpful to let your partner know that touching your scar makes you feel overwhelmed and stops your sexual excitement. 

  • If you ask your partner to give you honest feedback about sex, try to listen empathically without judging. Remind yourself that talking about sexual matters can be challenging -- further support from an Iris Mental Health Therapist may be helpful.