ADVERTISEMENT

Finding Sensuality After Cancer

After breast cancer, clinical sexologist Sueann Mark, PhD, developed a program to help survivors regain their sexuality after cancer.

BY KATHY LATOUR
PUBLISHED THURSDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2010
Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the Breast CURE discussion group.
After her diagnosis of stage 3 breast cancer, clinical sexologist Sueann Mark, PhD, began looking for information about cancer and its effects on sexuality. “I didn’t find much on the topic, and one of the nurses said that maybe that was what I was supposed to do.”

Mark developed STEPS (Sexual Transformation & Empowerment Program for Survivors) to help cancer patients and survivors open up to the possibility of sexuality after cancer and enhance the senses.  

Cancer complicates sexuality because there is a new body that is completely different, Mark says, adding that the top three issues she addresses in the cancer population are body image, vaginal dryness, and lack of libido. For women there is also fear, which inhibits orgasm.

Mark, who was diagnosed at age 34 in 2006, says the challenges in discussing sexual issues among survivors are similar to those in the general population “because we are socialized not to talk about sex and to not know what feels good.”

“We also live in a pleasure-phobic society,” Mark says. “So, what I focus on is developing healthy sensuality.”

Mark has created the ABCs of healthy sex, which she encourages cancer patients to adopt.

“ 'A' stands for adapt,” she says, explaining that cancer means adapting to a new body, a new emotional state and perhaps a new relationship. “Physically and psychologically, it means adapting to where you are now.”

“B” stands for broadening your definition of sex to include sensuality—opening up to all the senses, whether it be enjoying chocolate cake, art, music, movies, walking or any other activity that involves the senses. “Give each other a massage, take a bath, hold hands,” Mark recommends.

“C” stands for communicate. “Work sex into everyday conversation,” Mark says. “Hollywood gives us ways to talk about sex with all the scandals. Start creating a vocabulary in your relationship, and once you have the words, you can talk about it. Don’t talk in bed, but start talking,” she emphasizes. “‘What do you want? What do you like?’ Talk about it—with the understanding that it may change.”

She compared it to preparing food for your spouse. “If I am going to make a meal for you, I need to know if you have allergies and what you like and don’t like and how you like it presented: Do you like fast food or a five-course meal? Do you like spicy food? It’s a sensual connection.”

For those in treatment, Mark recommends maintaining as much sexual activity as you are comfortable with. “It’s like a hot water heater,” Mark explains. “It has a pilot light and you need to keep it lit. If you don’t, the water gets cold and it takes a long time to warm it up. If it stays lit, you’ll be ready for that hot shower.”   

Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the Breast CURE discussion group.
ADVERTISEMENT
ShareYourStory
Related Articles
Early Intervention Essential for Proper Management of Lymphedema
BY LAUREN M. GREEN
Early action to diagnose and treat lymphedema after breast cancer treatment can reverse this side effect or prevent it from becoming more severe.
Job's Friends
The best gift a friend can offer to someone who is ill is quiet comfort and support.
Cancer Radiation Treatment 101: Challenges and Advice
Breast cancer survivor shares her radiation treatment experience and offers tips from her perspective.
After Active Cancer Treatment 101 — The Next Steps
BY BARBARA TAKO
A breast cancer and melanoma survivor reflects on the emotions and experiences after surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation are completed.
Understanding Breast Cancer Subtypes
BY LAURA MARTIN
Understanding and classifying tumors based on their genomic makeup is an essential component of precision medicine.
Related Videos
Health Advocate Amy Byer Shainman Discusses Risk Management of Hereditary Cancers
When it comes to managing your risk of cancer, especially when dealing with a familial cancer risk, "what is right for one person, may not be right for another," says Amy Byer Shainman.
Research Updates on HER2-Positive Breast Cancer from the 2015 Miami Breast Cancer Conference
Debu Tripathy, editor-in-chief of CURE magazine, discusses updates from the Miami Breast Cancer Conference, including the changing landscape of HER2-positive breast cancer.
Medical Updates from the 32nd Annual Miami Breast Cancer Conference
The evolution of the treatment for hormone receptor-positive breast cancer was a hot topic for this year's Miami Breast Cancer Conference. Debu Tripathy, CURE's editor-in-chief and breast oncologist, reports from the meeting.
Joan Lunden Discusses the Physical and Emotional Effects of Breast Cancer Treatment
Journalist Joan Lunden shares her experience with breast cancer, side effects and working through treatment.
Journalist Joan Lunden Discusses Her Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment
Roy Firestone interviews longtime journalist, author and television host Joan Lunden on her recent breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Recent Publications
  • photo
    photo
    photo
    photo
    photo
  • photo
    photo
    photo
    photo
    photo
$auto_registration$