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Cancer patients and survivors can have trouble with intimacy

cancer-patients-and-survivors-can-have-trouble-with-intimacy

People who survive cancer treatment — a growing group now topping 5 million — often have trouble with intimacy afterward, both from the actual treatment and physical recovery and from the psychological damage of feeling so vulnerable.

People who survive cancer treatment — a growing group now topping 5 million — often have trouble with intimacy afterward, both from the actual treatment and physical recovery and from the psychological damage of feeling so vulnerable.(Photo: Getty Images/Comstock Images)

In the mirror, Kelly Shanahan looks normal, even to herself.

kelly-shanahan

Kelly Shanahan of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., has been battling breast cancer for eight years. She’s a big believer in doctors and their patients discussing sexual health.

But she does not feel like herself.

The breasts she had reconstructed eight years ago look real, the nipples convincing. But her breasts have no sensation. The only time she feels them at all is during the frigid winters of her South Lake Tahoe, Calif., home, when they get so cold, she has to put on an extra layer of clothing.

“For a lot of women, breast sensation is a huge part of sexual pleasure and foreplay. That is totally gone,” says Shanahan, 55, who has lived with advanced breast cancer for three years. “It can be a big blow to self-image, even though you may look normal.”
Kelly Shanahan of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., has been battling breast cancer for eight years. She’s a big believer in doctors and their patients discussing sexual health. (Photo: Kelly Shanahan)

Shanahan is part of a growing group of patients, advocates and doctors raising concerns about sexual health during and after cancer treatment.

“None of us would be here if it weren’t for sex. I don’t understand why we have such a difficult time talking about it,” she says.

Though virtually all cancer diagnoses and treatments affect how patients feel and what they think about their bodies, sex remains an uncomfortable medical topic.

Shanahan, an obstetrician herself, says that until her current doctor, none of the specialists who treated her cancer discussed her sex life.

“My former oncologist would rather fall through the floor than talk about sex,” she says.

Major cancer centers now include centers addressing sexuality, but most community hospitals still do not. The topic rarely is discussed unless the patient is particularly bold or the doctor has made a special commitment.

There’s no question that cancer can dampen people’s sex lives.

Hormone deprivation, a common therapy for breast and prostate cancer, can destroy libido, interfere with erections, and make sex extremely painful. Weight gain or loss can affect how sexy people feel. Fatigue is unending during treatment. Body image can be transformed by surgeries and the idea that your own cells are trying to kill you. The constant specter of death is a sexual downer, as are the decidedly unsexy aspects of cancer care, like carrying around a colostomy bag. Then, there are the healthy partners, feeling guilty and terrified of causing pain.

And once people start to associate sex with pain, that can add apprehension and muscle tightness, which makes intercourse harder to achieve, says Andrea Milbourne, a gynecologist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

There’s almost never a medical reason cancer patients or survivors shouldn’t be having sex, says Karen Syrjala, a clinical psychologist and co-director of the survivorship program at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Even if there is reason to avoid intercourse, physical closeness and intimacy are possible, she says, noting that the sooner people address sexual issues the less serious those issues will be.

“Bodies need to be used and touched,” she says said. “Tissues need to be kept active.” Syrjala recommends hugging, romantic dinners, simple touching, “maybe just holding each other naked at night.”

There are ways to improve sexual problems, starting with doctors talking to their patients about sex. Milbourne and others say it’s their responsibility, not the patients’, to bring up the topic.

Hormone deprivation, a common therapy for breast and prostate cancer, can destroy libido, interfere with erections, and make sex extremely painful. Lubricants can help smooth the way.

Hormone deprivation, a common therapy for breast and prostate cancer, can destroy libido, interfere with erections, and make sex extremely painful. Lubricants can help smooth the way.

Communication between partners also is essential. “A lot of times, it’s unclear, at least in the mind of the other partner who doesn’t have a cancer, what has happened. ‘Why does this hurt? Why don’t you want to do anything?’ ” Milbourne says.

For women who have pain during sex, Milbourne says one study found benefit to using lidocaine gel to numb vaginal tissue.

Jeanne Carter, head of the female sexual medicine and women’s health program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, recommends women do three minutes of Kegel exercises daily to strengthen their pelvic floor muscles and improve vaginal tone, and to help reconnect to their bodies.

For women sent abruptly into menopause, moisturizing creams can help soften tissue that has become brittle and taut. Carter says she’s conducted research showing that women with breast or endometrial cancers who use moisturizers three to five times a week in the vagina and on the vulva have fewer symptoms and less pain than those who don’t. Lubricants can help smooth the way, too.

“We’ve got to make sure we get the tissue quality and pain under control or that will just undermine the whole process,” Carter says.

Sex toys also take on a different meaning after cancer treatment. Specialized stores often can offer useful advice and the ability to examine a product before buying. Rings and other equipment, in addition to medications such as Viagra, can help men regain erections.

Doctors and well-meaning friends also need to stop telling cancer patients that they should simply be glad to be alive, Shanahan says. Of course she is, but eight years after her initial diagnosis and three years after her disease advanced, Shanahan wants to make good use of the time she has left.

And that, she says, includes having a warm, intimate relationship with her husband of 21 years.

Complete Article HERE!

Why Sex Is Better At 57 Than 27

Jordan E. Rosenfeld

Dame Helen Mirren approves of her wax replica.

Dame Helen Mirren approves of her wax replica.

Despite the fondness certain corners of the internet and cable television have for mocking sexually vital women of a certain age, new research suggests that those who embrace their sexuality may be laughing all the way to longer, healthier lives—though older men aren’t as lucky.

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A study out of Michigan State University (MSU) published this month in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior has found that frequent sex (defined as once or more per week) for women age 57 and older—especially if it’s “extremely pleasurable or satisfying”—resulted in a lower risk of hypertension and protected against cardiovascular disease.

Unfortunately for men, frequent sex in the 57 and older range is actually dangerous, increasing their risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and stroke. The risk is compounded by the use of medications such as Cialis and Viagra.

The study—an analysis of survey data of 2,204 people collected by the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project in 2005-6 and again five years later—isn’t just good news for older women, and should offer hope for younger women as they look to the future of their own sexuality.

Dr. Nancy Sutton Pierce, a nurse and clinical sexologist, suggests the best thing a young woman can do for her continued sexual health is to cultivate an attitude of optimism about it as she ages. “Younger women think sexy has an expiration date. Older women know it doesn’t,” she says.

The study is a stride toward busting the cultural myths that older women are supposedly non-sexual beings, which Sutton Pierce says “absolutely does them a disservice.” Sutton Pierce, who is almost 60, happily defies sexual stereotypes of older women. Married for thirty years to the same man, she says, “My sex life is better than ever, much better than my twenties.” In her work she says she sees women after forty “blossoming,” adding, “As women mature, we mature on all levels, which means we start to own our sexuality and sexual power. We don’t need someone else to tell us we’re hot, we can feel it.”

Study author Hiu Liu, an associate professor of sociology at MSU, also finds that for women, quality of sexual experience is a key contributing factor to the health benefits, not just quantity. “As a sociologist, I don’t see sex as just a physical exercise, as medical doctors do. It’s a social behavior, and has emotional meaning,” she says.

001For older women experiencing other kinds of physical declines related to illness, staying sexually active may bring other benefits. Irwin H., who asked to remain anonymous, of San Francisco found that for his 70-year-old wife, who has multiple sclerosis, increasingly limited mobility, and walks with a cane, “Sex gives her back her former sense of her physical self.” He even waxes a little poetic: “Sexuality for her is like an unexpected warm day in the middle of winter. It doesn’t end winter, but it makes it bearable.”

Some older women may believe they’ve lost their sexual selves when they experience the often dramatic physical changes at and after menopause, such as vaginal dryness and reduced libido. They need not despair, says Celeste Holbrook, PhD, a sexual health consultant and sexologist. “Sex, and fulfilling sex doesn’t always have to be centered on the goal of an orgasm, or penetrative sex,” she adds.

004However, Liu points out that the female sexual hormone released during orgasm, oxytocin, “may also promote women’s health” by reducing cortisol and increasing estrogen.

Holbrook urges communication between partners rather than silent acceptance. “Redefining your sexuality as we age for anybody is really good. Talk to your partner about your body changes and how you can create a fulfilling sex life while embracing those changes.”

Men shouldn’t worry too much, however. Though the MSU study seems to be the research equivalent of a cold shower for older men, Liu reminds them, “Moderate sex is good for older men, too.”

Complete Article HERE!

Female Sexual Dysfunction, Another Perspective

Hey sex fans,

It appears that my posting of last week, Female Sexual Dysfunction Is A Fictional Disorder, caused quite a stir.  As you recall, I was answering a question from a woman who asked if FSD, or female sexual dysfunction is real or a fictitious “ailment” that is being promulgated to sell pharmaceuticals to unsuspecting women.  I replied; “I think that, for the most part, female sexual dysfunction, or FSD, is a fictional disorder. I also think pharmaceutical companies are trying to hit on a female version of Viagra to treat this imaginary disorder so they can make a bundle, just like they did with as the male version.”

Well, that didn’t sit well with some friends and colleagues. One among them, Dr. Serena McKenzie took the most exception. She sent me a little note: “Your blog on female sexual dysfunction being fictitious is – respectfully – fucking bullshit sir.” Ok then!

I invited Serena to make her case not only to me, but to all my readers. What follows is Serena in her own words.

Flibanserin, the first and only medication available for use in reproductive aged women with low libido, becomes commercially available this week after a rocky and controversial road that led to its FDA approval Aug. 18. The view on the medication whose brand name is Addyi (pronounced ADD-EE) ranges from a historical achievement in women’s health care to an epic failure of commercialized medical propaganda. Despite the lengthy debate that has surrounded flibanserin, what most people want to know is whether it will help their sex life or not now that it is here.

addyi


First Things First

While sexual concerns can be difficult to discuss for many women and their partners, it is important to acknowledge that sex and intimacy are some of the great extraordinary experiences of being human. When sex goes badly, which statistically it does for 43 percent of U.S. women, the consequences can devastate a relationship and personal health. One of the biggest applauds I have for the FDA is their statement of recognition that female sexual dysfunction is an unmet clinical need.

Sexuality Is Mind-Body But Not-Body?

Sexuality is usually complicated, and problems with sex such as loss of libido are multifactorial for most women. Antagonists to flibanserin cite psychosocial contributions such as relationship discord, body image, or history of sexual abuse to be the most pinnacle causes of a woman who may complain of problematic lack of sexual desire, and that sex is always a mind-body phenomenon. While these factors often implicitly correlate to loss of sexual interest for a woman, they don’t always, and you cannot advocate that women’s sexuality is all inclusive of her mind, body, and spirit — and assert simultaneously that a biochemical contribution which flibanserin is designed to address in the brain to improve satisfying sexual experiences does not exist.

(c) Myles Murphy; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) Myles Murphy; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Biochemistry of Sex

Antidepressant medications that alter brain biochemistry are notorious for having sexual side effects which can be prevalent up to 92 percent of the time, and are known to decrease sexual interest, disrupt arousal, and truncate orgasm in some women. Ironically, flibanserin was originally studied as an antidepressant, and while the exact mechanism of how a medication can impair or improve sexual interest is unknown, it should not be difficult to consider that if biochemical tinkering can crush sexual function, it may also be capable of improving it.

Efficacy Data Dance

Flibanserin is a pill taken once nightly, and has been critiqued as showing only modest increases in sexual desire, with improvements in sexually satisfying events rising 0.4 to 1 per month compared with placebo. However just because flibanserin has lackluster efficacy data, that does not mean it is ineffective, and even small improvements in sexual function can be life altering for a woman struggling with disabling intimate problems. If only 1 percent of women with low libido were to improve their sexual function with use of flibanserin, that equates to 160,000 women, or the population of Tempe, Arizona.

Blue Sky Side Effects

Flibanserin has side effects, and the sky is blue. All medications have pro and con profiles, and for flibanserin the most common consequences of use include fatigue, dizziness, sleepiness, and a rare but precipitous drop in blood pressure. Women may not drink alcohol while taking this medication. Providers who will prescribe it and pharmacies that will dispense flibanserin must be approved through what is called a Risk Evaluation and Management Strategy, or REMS, which means they are educated on advising women on how to take flibanserin safely. While a REMS program is arguably overkill compared to numerous higher risk, common prescriptions which do not require a REMS, it is an excellent opportunity for clinicians who have a background in sexuality to be the main applicants since they are far more qualified to assess proper candidates for treatment as well as continue to endorse holistic measures alongside flibanserin. Women who are interested in trying flibanserin should only obtain it from sexuality trained professionals.

The Proof Is In The Sexy Pudding

If flibanserin is worthless, the marketplace will bury it in a shallow grave quickly. Women will stop paying for it, and conscientious medical providers will stop prescribing it. Yet 8,500 women taking flibanserin were studied, over a 1,000 of them for one year, and the data suggests it will help some. Women deserve to be educated on their options, because sexual health is worth fighting for.

Changing The World, One Orgasm At A Time

We simply cannot overlook how astronomical of an achievement it is to even have a mediocre medication approved for female sexual dysfunction. Women’s sexuality has been ignored by medicine for most of history. At least now we have something to fight over.

The controversy about flibanserin is in fact magnificent, and frankly, the entire point. We must talk openly about sexuality and sexual concerns to improve them, personally for one woman at a time, but also uniformly to embrace female sexuality as a vastly larger societal allowance.

A satisfying sexual life is far more than the restoration of sexual dysfunction, it’s a thriving, multi dimensional, ever evolving weave of psychology, relationships, life circumstances, and yes can include a milieu of biochemistry and neurotransmitter pools.

Is a pill ever going to replace the vastly complicated arenas that fuse into our sexual experience? Of course not — it’s absurd and lazy-minded for anyone to suggest that is even being proposed. But it is necessary and inherently responsible to allow for all possible puzzle pieces to be utilized through the ever evolving navigation of sensuality, intimacy, and erotic fulfillment.

So will flibanserin make your sex life better? Maybe. But considering the conversation about it valuable as well as its use as merely one tool among many options to improve sex and intimacy would be the better bet. Ultimately, we “desire” sex that is meaningful, erotic, and dynamic. The journey of seeking sexual vitality deserves every key, crowbar, heathen kick, graceful acrobatics, or little pink pill that lends its part to the process, no matter how small or big, for the opportunity to discover and embrace a sexual aliveness.

Holistic physician, certified sexual medicine specialist, sex counselor, medical director of the Northwest Institute for Healthy Sexuality

Female Sexual Dysfunction Is A Fictional Disorder

Name: Sharon
Gender: female
Age: 30
Location: PA
I’ve been reading a lot lately about FSD, or female sexual dysfunction. Is there such at thing? It strikes me as a fictitious “ailment” that is being promulgated to sell pharmaceuticals to unsuspecting women. What are your thoughts?

I share your skepticism. I think that, for the most part, female sexual dysfunction, or FSD, is a fictional disorder. I also think pharmaceutical companies are trying to hit on a female version of Viagra to treat this imaginary disorder so they can make a bundle, just like they did with as the male version.

body as art

So much of female sexuality is caught up with the cultural context of a women’s role in society — family obligations, body image and patriarchal views of marriage, etc. For the most part, men aren’t nearly so encumbered. So when one talks about female sexuality, particularly when the notion of a condition or a disorder arises; ya gotta ask yourself, what’s going on here?

I too have been noticing a lot of discussion in the popular culture lately about female sexual dysfunction. My first response is to ask myself, who’s raising the issue and why? Sure some women, like some men, experience difficulties in terms of desire, arousal and orgasm, but what of it? Is it a syndrome? Is it really a dysfunction? I personally don’t think so. The sexual difficulties most people experience can be explained and dealt with in a less dramatic way then with drugs?

And here’s an interesting phenomenon; the repeated appearance of the term female sexual dysfunction in the media lately actually gives the concept legitimacy. I’m certain the pharmaceutical industry is hoping that it will. If they can make the connection in the public mind between what women experience in terms of desire, arousal and orgasm concerns and what men describe as erectile dysfunction, then most of the work is done. In other words, I think the entire effort is a marketing ploy.

female sxualityI think we can safely say that, in order to determine what female sexual dysfunction might be, one has to clearly understand what a “normal” sexual response is for a woman. This is where we traditionally run into problems. Sex science is notoriously lacking in this endeavor. One thing for certain, although both women and men have a discernable sexual response cycle, a woman’s sexual response is not the same as a man’s. Even though we can’t say with certainty what “normal” is, therapists are famous for turning difficulties into disorders. And once you have a disorder it becomes the basis for developing a drug therapy. So you can see how this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Currently there’s a real buzz among clinicians concerning the efficacy of Addyi, the so-called “female Viagra”. But most sexologists, myself included, are unimpressed. Basically, the drug in question is an antidepressant. When I heard that, red flags began to fly. Antidepressants are notorious for their adverse side effects, especially in terms of sexual arousal in both men and women. The second problem with the study was the whole notion of desire and distress. Lots of women experience diminished sexual arousal but are not distressed by it. But if there’s no distress, clinically speaking, then it can’t be considered a disorder. You see where I’m going with this, right? If there’s not a “disorder” there’s no need for a pharmaceutical intervention.FUCK

According to the research some of the women in the clinical studies leading up to the approval of the drug claimed they were less distressed by their “condition,” Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, than they were at the beginning of the study. According to clinical trials of Addyi held in 2013, only 8% – 13% of the women experienced “much improved” sexual desire and only about 2 more satisfying sexual encounters per month were had. In other words, when behaviors were studied, the actual number of satisfying sexual episodes reported by these less distressed women hardly changed of all. This indicates to me that the antidepressant helped lift the spirits of the distressed women, but did nothing to increase their satisfaction with their sexual outlet.

Twice the FDA rejected Addyi for its severe side effects and marginal ability to produce the effect that it is being marketed for. And despite the fact that the drug is now available, those side effects still exist. Women who take the pill are likely to experience dizziness, nausea, drowsiness, fainting spells, and falling blood pressure. Coupled with alcohol and even hormonal contraceptives the odds of these potential side effects occurring increase. Persons with liver ailments, or taking certain other medicines, such as types of steroids are also at higher risk. On the other hand Viagra has very mild side effects that may include headaches, indigestion, blue-tinted vision and in some cases a stuffy nose.

While a man can pop Viagra an hour or so before he plans to have sex, women who are looking for increased sexual desire need to take Addyi daily for up to a month before they should expect to see any effects.

Good luck

The Thrill Is Gone

Name: Billy
Gender: Male
Age: 46
Location:
I have heard it’s normal for sex drive to diminish as you age. I’ll run this by you. I’m a 46 year old male and the last time I was at a strip club with bare boobs bouncing around me, you may as well have rolled a grapefruit across the floor. Actually, I can see more use from the grapefruit. I don’t recall the last time I did it, and jerking off was almost disgusting. My tool has shrank to nothing. I barely touch it and it just dribbles, it doesn’t fire off anymore. I don’t even like to touch it to go piss anymore. I’ve had to shave around it, so I actually find it, to keep from pissing my pants. Is this normal?

No, Billy, this isn’t normal. I think you already know that too, right?

andropauseDo you know anything about andropause? If not, you ought to. Here’s what I suggest. Use this site’s search function in the sidebar. Type in the key word: “andropause” and you will come up with a wealth of information about this issue.

You can also use the CATEGORY pull down menu. Look for the subcategory: Sex and Aging, under the main category: Aging. Everything is alphabetized.

But for the time being, here’s a typical question and response —

Name: Wilson
Gender: male
Age: 58
Location: Lancing MI
I’m a successful entrepreneur, in decent health (I could stand to lose a few pounds.) I have just about everything a man could want in life, but I’m miserable. I have no energy and I feel like I’m sleepwalking through my life. I have no sex drive at all; my wife thinks I’m having an affair…I wish. Even Viagra doesn’t do the trick anymore. Is this just old age, or what?

Old age, at 58? Middle age, perhaps! Regardless what we call it, you sound like you’re in the throws of andropause — male menopause — ya know, the change of life!

Never heard of such a thing? You’re not alone. It’s only been recently has the medical industry has begun to pay attention to the impact changing hormonal levels has on the male mind and body. Most often andropause is misdiagnosed as depression and treated with an antidepressant. WRONG!andropause-1

Every man will experience a decrease testosterone, the “male” hormone, as he ages. This decline is gradual, often spanning ten to fifteen years on average. While the gradual decrease of testosterone does not display the profound effects that menopause does, the end results are similar.

There is no doubt that a man’s sexual response changes with advancing age and the decrease of testosterone. Sexual urges diminish, erections are harder to come by, they’re not as rigid, there’s less jizz shot with less oomph. And our refractory period (or interval) between erections is more pronounced too.

While most all of us have heard of a mid-life crisis, and it’s tragic consequences — red convertible sports cars, comb-overs, and the trophy wife or lover — fewer have heard of andropause. A mid-life crisis is essentially a psycho-social adjustment to aging — bored at work, bored at home, bored with the wife or partner — that sort of thing. Andropause, although it may coincide with a mid-life crisis, is not the same thing. Andropause is a distinct physiological phenomenon that is in many ways akin to female menopause.

Unlike women, men can continue to father children after andropause, but like I said, the production of testosterone diminishes gradually after age 40. I suppose you know that testosterone is the hormone that stimulates sexual development in the male infant, bone and muscle growth in adult males, and is responsible for our sexual drive. But did you know that by the age of 55, the amount of testosterone secreted into our bloodstream is significantly lower than at 45. And by age 80, most male hormone levels have decreased to pre-puberty levels.

Men, are you over 50? Are you feeling weak, lethargic, depressed, and irritable? Do you have mood swings, hot flashes, insomnia, and decreased libido, like our buddy Wilson, here? Then you too may be andropausal. You need to get some lead back in your pencil!

mutateAll kidding aside, andropausal men might want to consider Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT). Ask your physician about this. Just know that some medical professionals resist testosterone therapy, mistakenly linking Testosterone Replacement Therapy with prostate cancer. Even though recent evidence shows prostatic disease is estrogen-dependent rather than testosterone-dependent. However, before starting a testosterone regiment, insist on a complete physical, including blood work and a rectal examine. Mmmm, rectal exams!

Testosterone is available in many forms — oral, injectable, trans-dermal and by way of implants. The oral form is not recommended because of the high risk of liver damage. But injections, patches, pellets, creams and gels might be just the answer. I encourage you to be informed about TRT before you approach your doctor, because the best medicine is practiced collaboratively — by you and your doctor.

Good luck