September 08, 2023

Crazy Complicated Sex Life

On the back cover of yesterday’s New York Times Magazine was an add that read in 26 point font: PROSTATE CANCER SURGERY SO EFFECTIVE, EVEN WOMEN CAN FEEL THE DIFFERENCE. In smaller print it spoke of a new surgical procedure performed at Mount Sinai that results in fewer cases of prostatectomies leading to impotence.

From surgical procedures, to attitudes that empower women to pull ourselves up by our high-heeled bootstraps, I’m not sure how I feel about using sex to sell cancer recovery. On one hand, cancer and sex is a rather hush-hush subject, so perhaps it is good that we are even talking about it. But in what ways are we cracking out, dusting off, and dressing up our attitudes and images about cancer and sex?

It’s great to boost cancer empowerment through a sassy, act hot feel better attitude. Believe me, I’ve have days wherein slapping on a coat of lipstick and CFM heels, cranking up Erasure, and dancing around my apartment has given me a much needed jolt. But beyond private (or public) lipstick n’ high heeled carnival moments with our inner cancer divas, and beneath Vogue stories featuring models and actresses with cancer (who had the running start advantage of being drop-dead gorgeous before diagnosis), cancer and sex is not always so sexy – for women or men.

Tell me why I never see the glossy, sexy photos of a 24 year-old-woman, standing at 5’2 and weighing in at 198 from steroid treatment weight gain. Tell me why I never see the flick about the 35 year-old-woman post bone marrow transplant whose vaginal canal shrunk because of graft versus host disease. Tell me why I never read books about the twenty-two year old guy who cannot get an erection after his gazillion rounds of radiation treatment for brain cancer.

I’ll tell you why: because like it or not, the real deal cancer ain’t so sexy.

So all you bloggers, writers, authors, journalists, designers, satirists, filmmakers, ad moguls, and cause-related marketing gurus, if you are going to bring sex out into the cancer arena, do us a favor and drag out the REAL TABOO: start talking about the crazy complicated sex lives of young adult cancer patients. Talk about what it means when you finally land a guy in your bed but realize you cannot even stand to have your body touched because your skin is crawling with the post-traumatic stress of being poked and prodded by strangers.

Now hear this, memoirists, major network media, the cancer powers that be: the next time you haul sex and cancer out into the day light, try including the truth of when we feel like shit because our breasts are missing, our penises aren’t hard, we feel fat and ugly, or work-camp thin and gaunt, we don’t want to go shopping because we don’t have the money and cannot stand to look in the dressing room mirror, and the quick-fix prescriptive of self-empowered girl language or kick-ass guy attitude just doesn’t work. I’m excited to share with you some of this read deal conversation in my book, which will be out in the new year. But until then…

What are some of your stories of relating to cancer and sex?
Also, have you ever felt a disconnect between the way sexual empowerment is presented in books or media and how you actually feel about your body or your sex life?

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  1. Jacob Says:
    September 10th, 2008 at 12:21 AM

    I think for me, what really changed post-cancer was the emotional aspect of it. For some reason, it was suddenly very scary to think about giving so much of myself to someone else. What would it mean for me? Would I get really attached to this person just to have them leave once they realized that I may not be healthy tomorrow?

    I made friends and lost some while I battled cancer and it really made me realize the importance of trust. Cancer also made it VERY difficult for me to trust anyone completely. The doctor tells you you’ll be fine, but you’re in the hospital feeling like you’re going to die. Your family tells you you’re looking good but you look in the mirror and are disgusted with the baldness, skinniness, paleness. Your lover tells you not to worry, that he/she will never leave you, but how can you trust that? After you’ve battled through Leukemia and have spent all of your time finally understanding that nothing is ever certain in this world?

    Cancer messed me up emotionally and so I was unable to have sex for a long time.

    The scars were also an issue, but when I finally did let somebody into my life and the relationship got sexual, he was quick to kiss my scars and spend a lot of time making sure I was feeling completely comfortable with myself.

    I think I cried after the first successful attempt at sex post-cancer! HA! What a wuss, right?! But it was just so emotional. Ahem, don’t judge me. ;)

  2. kevin Says:
    December 24th, 2008 at 6:34 AM

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