Breast cancer survivor and Evofem Biosciences founder and CEO Saundra Pelletier shares her thoughts on a new hormone-free contraceptive gel that could improve sexual quality of life in patients with cancer.
In 2018, Evofem Biosciences founder and CEO Saundra Pelletier was developing Phexxi, a non-hormonal contraceptive gel for women, when she was blindsided by a diagnosis of aggressive, stage 3 breast cancer. After treatments that included chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and a hysterectomy, Pelletier was soon celebrating being cancer-free, and also the Food and Drug Administration approval of her revolutionary product.
Through her firsthand experience with cancer, Pelletier learned that a non-hormonal contraceptive gel like Phexxi is not just beneficial for its contraceptive properties, but can also help women with cancer and survivors improve their sexual quality of life.
“Why Phexxi is so important and special, is that it allows these women to still have intimacy. They don't have to worry about this product interacting with them (and) the things they're doing. They don't have to worry about hormones in their body,” Pelletier said.
“Pleasurable sex should not be something that's off the table for you. You should get to care about your sexuality as much as anybody, and perhaps more so, because you should definitely get the benefit of the upside. Have a little joy after you go through all this hell, you know?”
I've talked to a lot of cancer patients in survivorship, and they have said that vaginal dryness is very, very serious, but it's awkward. And they feel that they're not ashamed of it, but they don't really talk about it. And they don't really know who to talk about it. A lot of these women, they say to me, “Look, I'm lucky to be alive.” I feel like it makes people think “What is wrong with me that I want to talk about sexuality? What am I, a nymphomaniac?” And you know, we sort of joke about it.
But I recently talked to an oncologist, Dr. Doshi, and she said to me, “You know, when men go through cancer treatment, particularly for prostate issues, their number one concern is, can they still get an erection?” She said, “I want you to imagine if a woman said, well, I'm very worried about (whether) I (can) still have an orgasm? They would think that a woman was crazy, and she should just carry about care about saving her life!”
So the quality of life for women, I believe, is something that we need to talk about more, and that we need to lean into. It's not just the physical impacts of cancer. And yes, we're starting to talk about the psychological impacts that happen. But we also need to talk about the sexual impacts, because a lot of these women have partners, and they still want to have intimacy, and they don't want cancer to change their life, they want to go back to the life they had before they were diagnosed.
And so, why Phexxi is so important and special, is that it allows these women to still have intimacy, they don't have to worry about this product interacting with them, the things they're doing, they don't have to worry about hormones in their body. And they hopefully will have a little more pleasurable sex because it's lubricating already. And they don't have to worry about some lubricant that they don't know what the ingredients are in either.
So, I'm really excited about that. And the final thing is that I want to be appropriately provocative, and I want to be able to say to these cancer patients, you know, look, pleasurable sex should not be something that's off the table for you. You should get to care about your sexuality as much as anybody, and perhaps more so, because you should definitely get the benefit of the upside. Have a little joy after you go through all this hell, you know?