How to Cope With Intimacy Issues and Breast Cancer

(Mary Evens)

Breast cancer will affect even women's, whether she is diagnosed or a loved one.
Breast cancer will affect even women’s, whether she is diagnosed or a loved one.

When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, there are a great many health concerns. However, sexual health, intimacy and psychological problems may not be among her primary considerations.

If you were recently diagnosed with breast cancer or are currently in recovery, it is important to be aware of the psychological treatments available to both you and your partner.

Of course, emotional support from friends and loved ones is critical for any cancer patient. However, some emotional reactions can come as a surprise not only to relatives, but also to the patient herself. Therefore, it may be necessary to seek additional support and guidance through this difficult time.

Unfortunately, while doctors address surgery, chemotherapy, medication and so forth, the psychological impact of cancer may not be a subject readily discussed.

Why do Intimacy Problems Occur?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, for most women, a diagnosis of breast cancer results in a loss of libido. This is due to a number of emotional responses, including:

  • Feelings of unattractiveness (particularly after surgery)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of sexual function
  • Decrease in sex drive

These are all common and understandable reactions, but, if not addressed, a lack of intimacy can lead to a gradual breakdown in communication and, consequently, significant problems within a relationship.

Unfortunately, while doctors address surgery, chemotherapy, medication and so forth, the psychological impact of cancer may not be a subject readily discussed.

How to Overcome Intimacy Problems

Breast cancer survivor, Claire, takes topless selfies
Breast cancer survivor, Claire, takes topless selfies

There are, of course, many ways to approach these issues. You may feel capable of dealing with them yourself, which is perfectly acceptable. On the other hand, you should never feel ashamed of requesting help.

In many cases, counseling (either individual or couples therapy) can be extremely beneficial. Additionally, there are medications that can improve your feelings of anxiety or loss of sexual desire.

Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication could help in eliminating some triggers that lead to lack of libido. However, it is worth bearing in mind that a side effect of these medications can be lack of sex drive, so it is important to discuss this subject with a doctor.

 

After Breast Cancer Treatment

You may think sexual problems are caused by diagnosis and treatment, so it is natural to assume that these issues will be resolved once the cancer is in remission. This can often be the case, but it is far from a foregone conclusion.

In many cases, breast cancer will alter a woman’s body, which, as mentioned above, can cause feelings of unattractiveness and, in extreme cases, the development of body dysmorphic disorder.

Therefore, intimacy issues may continue long after the cessation of treatment. Again, these symptoms should not cause shame or embarrassment and psychological treatment can prove extremely helpful.

If you are having trouble coping with diagnosis or treatment, it is imperative that you seek assistance from psychological support services. Remember, help is not always offered, so it is important to speak out if you are experiencing any of the problems mentioned above.

The good news is that with help, support and guidance, you can once again enjoy a happy and healthy sex life.

 

 

Mary Evans is a literature graduate, who has been working as a freelance writer for over three years. Join the conversation with the Cooch Coach Community. If you’re thinking of harming yourself or others, seek help right away. In the U.S., dial 911 or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).

Mythos Vāgīnae

(Geninna Hernando RN)

Many women's health myths are perpetuated by  advertising.
Many women’s health myths are perpetuated by advertising, as seen here, part of Lysol’s 25+ year campaign of mythology.

There is no other part of a woman’s body that can change its shape so dramatically, whether it’s a baby coming out or small tube for Pap smear coming in, can clean itself, and needs minimal attention for maintenance. The vivacious vagina – it brings pleasure to women and serves mankind by keeping the human race alive.

There is a continued fascination with the vagina, which has led to some really extreme and odd myths about that shadowy space. But where in the world is it? Let’s take a trip down anatomy lane and pinpoint exactly what is it that we’re talking about when we say “vagina.” And it also happens to be myth #1.

Myth 1: The vagina includes external genitalia.

The female reproductive system can be quite complex and confusing. There is an outer area, the vulva, which houses structures such as the mons pubis (where the majority of the hair is), labia or folds (majora and minora), clitoris, etc.

The vagina is not quite visible here yet. The human anatomy really intended to heighten the suspense. In fact, to get to the elusive vagina, you need to sort your way past the first few folds carefully, and then you will see the vaginal canal opening. You know you’ve penetrated far enough when only two openings are visible. One is big enough to accommodate a finger, and one is small enough to let out a stream of urine. Starting from the bigger opening, connecting and continuing straight through until the cervix, is the whole vagina. Its shape has evolved to accommodate the male copulatory organ, the penis.

Myth 2: Like men, women pee and ejaculate from the same path within their vaginas.

 The vagina is a multitasker; it provides a path for blood and tissue during menstruation and it transforms into the birthing canal. Another part of the female form is responsible for urination. It was mentioned earlier that there are two openings in the vulva area, a bigger vaginal opening and a smaller one. The other, smaller opening is called the urethra, and this is where urine is coming out.

Myth 3: Vaginas need to be douched and cleaned, inside and out.

The vagina is a self-cleaning organ, just like our eyes.  Notice the usual discharges that it deposits, odorless and pain free. There is no need to douche, use soaps or feminine washes to clean it. In fact, douching typically does more harm than good. If you use these kinds of products, you can change the pH level of the vagina. Normally, healthy bacteria of the vagina maintains a pH between 3.8 and 4.5, which is acidic enough to prevent the growth of bad bacteria.

There are claims that eating probiotic-rich food or placing vaginal suppositories that contain good bacteria help keep the vagina healthy. There are no scientific studies that support this claim.

Myth 4: Feed your vagina probiotics.

Probiotics foster the growth of bacteria. Because of the presence of good bacteria in the vagina, there are claims that eating probiotic-rich food or placing vaginal suppositories that contain good bacteria help keep the vagina healthy. There are no scientific studies that support this claim. It’s best that you consult your ob-gynecologist before taking any of the aforementioned products.

These are just a few of the myths surrounding the vivacious vagina. There are a lot more out there, that’s for sure, but knowing the basic truths about the vagina will hopefully give you a better take on how to keep yours healthier and well.

 

Geninna Hernando enjoys daydreaming of pristine white beaches in the morning and attempting to beat her 40 books read/year streak at night. She is a licensed maternal and child nurse by profession.

Polyamerous Ancestors

Love Thy Neighbor: Polyamorous Ancestors

Did our ancestors love their neighbor?
Did our ancestors love their neighbor?

Polyamorous comes from the Latin root words “many” and “love.” A person who practices polyamory is someone who is in a relationship with more than one person. To say that it is the opposite of monogamy would be incorrect. Polyamorous lovers have much in common with monogamous pairs. They can engage in deep loving relationships with good communication, experience pair bonding, and be together long-term. New research shows that all of our ancestors may have been polyamorous. Women and men are built for it. This is not a critique of monogamous relationships, merely a glance into a woman’s past in hopes that how she used to love may spark tolerance of some people’s lifestyle today.

Share and Share Alike

Men are historically land owners. They provided meat, shelter and protection to women, who in turn promised fidelity and bore children. However, this relationship only holds true if men are resource owners and providers, which only accounts for the past 10,000 years of history. However, humans evolved as early as 200,000 years ago. In a hunter/gatherer society, 95% of human history by time, people did not own land, but instead changed locations throughout the year. Men hunted as a team, following heard migration, while women gathered edible plants in groups, and the bounty was shared. Anthropologists call this lifestyle “fierce egalitarianism”. It was not an option to keep sustaining resources to one’s self. What then did a man promise a woman to gain her fidelity? New research published in the book Sex at Dawn suggests – nothing. Just as housing was shared, sexual partners were shared.  It helped to maintain relationships, create genetic diversity, and produce more members of the tribe. Some tribes today still have a similar philosophy.

Each night the girls choose a new partner.

In India’s Chhattisgarh state, the Deer Horn Muria tribe’s young adults learn tribal dances and lore while shacking up. Each night the girls choose a new partner. Although herbal contraceptive juice is taken, there is a plan in the event of a pregnancy. The father is unknown, so the entire village adopts the baby. There is no sham associated with “sleeping around.” In the Trobriand society, occupying islands near Papa New Guinea, parents do not hide sexual acts from their children. At a young age children are allowed and encouraged to play games that end in imitation of or the act of sex. These are only two of the numerous examples of free love communities across the globe.

Motivation

Most animals engage in intercourse for reproductive purposes only. Humans have sex for pleasure in addition to reproduction. In order to compare reproductive behaviors objectively, scientist compare the number of times an animal copulates to the number of births. The statistics back up the biology. For example, gorillas’ sex acts to births ratio is around 12:1. Homo sapiens have sex about 1,000 times per birth. This number means that on average a woman has sex 1,000 times for every one time she conceives. Some women have a much higher number, others a much lower number. Most mammals have much lower numbers. Typical mammals will have sex 5-12 times per birth. They have less motivation for intercourse and do not get pleasure from the act.

Designed for Sex

Human sexuality is a result of many pieces precisely fitting together. Woman and man are built to enjoy each other, and often. When discussing sex acts, comparing to similar mammals provides some context. Humans, chimpanzees and bonobos are nearly genetically identical, making the three a fair group to compare. There are some differences, but as esteemed scientist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jared Diamond points out, humans are more like chimpanzees and bonobos than the African elephant is to the Indian elephant.

Women have a unique and remarkable trait adding, to the high number of sexual acts relative to other animals, a woman can have sex at any time during her reproductive cycle. Bonobos are able to copulate during about 90% of their sexual cycle days a month, chimpanzees 40% of their cycle days a month and women 100% of the month. Women are able to have sex even after reproduction is not possible, such as when pregnant or post-menopausal. This is extremely rare and a highly-evolved trait.

Women have a unique and remarkable trait, adding to the high number of sexual acts relative to other animals,a woman can have sex at any time during her reproductive cycle.

Men with external genitalia–hopefully this isn’t news to you. The testes hang away from the body, allowing sperm to stay cool and man to be ready for copulation with no notice. Researcher Christopher Ryan likens the testicles’ placement to a beer fridge in the garage. The beer fridge is stocked, cool and ready to go with a moment’s notice in case a spontaneous party breaks out. Sperm is stocked in the testicles, preferring a cooler temperature than the body’s 98.6 degrees.

Both women and men are built to have sex at a moment’s notice. It could also be argued that our ancestors had a lot of sex. Whether with one person or multiple loving partners, make time for sex. You were built for it.

Bottom Line

There are many evolutionary clues leading scientists and anthropologists to believe that our ancestors loved often and with many people. Being with more than one person does not mean that one does not love their partner. Monogamy is a choice that is respected in the United States today. If you choose to be in a monogamous relationship, that’s great. If you and your partner choose polyamory, that’s great too. The important thing is that you and your partner(s) feel good about the decisions you make together and that you maintain autonomy over how you choose to love.

Vaginal Discharge

Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_The_Three_Graces,_1635. Vaginal dischage
– “My vaginal discharge was a bit lumpy today.”
– “Perhaps you are dehydrated?” – “It could be your menstrual cycle.”

(Hannah Alegarme, RN)

 

What is it?

Vaginal discharge is not a hot discussion topic over brunch with girlfriends, probably because of its association to personal hygiene and sexually-related conditions. Typically, women skip this topic of the conversation for fear that it may put them in an embarrassing situation. However, knowing your vaginal discharge can provide hints to your health. Distinguishing types of vaginal secretions can be a challenge; discharges brought about by sexually-transmitted infections are seemingly alike to normal ones.

Basically, the vagina is the organ of copulation, menstrual flow and childbirth. This hollow organ is about 10cm long from the external opening to the cervix. (Click for more info on anatomy.) The resident bacteria of the vagina, which help fight harmful bacteria, produce lactic acid, thus, its environment is acidic. Fluids seeping from the vagina, also referred to as discharges, are mucus secretions of the cervix. More than half of women experience vaginal discharges sometimes, although some have it on a daily basis.  It is also possible that there are a few ladies who rarely have it. Normally, vaginal discharge is clear or white. When dried, it may become off-white or slightly yellowish. It may have a mild odor or no scent at all. In terms of consistency, it is either sticky (paste-like) or clear and stretchy, depending on the woman’s period in her menstrual cycle.

Know Normal

Female hormonal levels regularly change throughout the menstrual cycle, and so does the amount and consistency of the vaginal discharge. During ovulation, there is an expected increase in the amount of discharge.

Other changes in the color, consistency, and/or odor of vaginal discharges may be associated with several bodily changes.  Alterations in the immune system due to pre-existing or newly-acquired conditions such as pregnancy, diabetes and even just by taking of certain antibiotics are common causes of changes. These alterations are not alarming. However, it is still important that women closely observe these changes and do not hesitate to seek professional help if changes are alarming.

The woman must be cognizant in the pattern of vaginal secretions in terms of amount, odor and consistency during her entire menstrual cycle. By being aware of one’s normal functions, changes which are not the usual can be more easily recognized.

Female hormonal levels regularly change throughout the menstrual cycle, and so does the amount and consistency of the vaginal discharge.

 

Not Normal

Vaginitis, which is one of the most common causes of abnormal vaginal discharge, is technically defined as irritation or infection of the vagina. It is usually characterized by the presence of excessive milky white secretions. This condition can affect females of all ages, including school age and adolescent girls. Possible irritants of the female genitals are douching, leather and nylon underwear, scented soaps, powders and sprays, and other chemicals, including bubble bath. (Learn how to keep your vagina and cervix happy here.)

Pathogens can also cause vaginitis. The common infections that are related to vaginitis include trichomoniasis, yeast infections, and bacterial vaginosis. Sometimes, symptoms of vaginitis overlap those of several sexually-transmitted diseases. Thus, timely diagnosis is recommended.

Time to Visit the Doctor

There are a few signals that scream “visit the gynecologist immediately,” if/when these changes occur in vaginal discharge.  If the discharge is heavier and thicker than usual, it may signal health or reproductive problems. Discharges that are green or yellow in color imply infection, such as a sexually-transmitted infection. Foul-odored secretion is another indicator of infection. Pain or itchiness in the vaginal areas, which some may associate with flow of heavy secretions during ovulation, are not normal, either. Moreover, dyspareunia, or pain during intercourse, and dysuria, or pain when urinating, must be reported to a physician. If left untreated, an infection can spread to a partner or within one’s own body, causing long-term damage. The best policy is to be aware of your vagina, its secretions, and how your vaginal discharge should change over your cycle.

 

 

A wife to a peachy man and a mother to a darling girl, Hannah Pegalan Alegarme is a Sunday School teacher, licensed nurse and educator, always ready to jump at a cotton candy treat.

 

 

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