Physical Intimacy

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Right after receiving your brain tumor diagnosis, your attention will likely be focused on the “what next?” questions – what treatments are available and how soon will you need to begin them.  As you begin to live with your diagnosis, it is not unusual to start wondering about how it will affect your sexuality.


Many people – and you may be one of them – feel awkward or embarrassed about bringing up sex-related issues to their physicians. In some cases, physicians also feel uncomfortable in giving guidance or advice. Here are some things to keep in mind as you move forward.


You May Feel Emotionally Disconnected with Your Partner

Even when you are physically able to engage in intercourse, there may be emotional issues that affect your sex life. You may wonder, “Am I still desirable and attractive? Am I less of a person now than I was before diagnosis?” You may even withdraw from your partner at a time when you most need emotional connection and the reassurance of physical intimacy. Keep in mind that your partner will most likely want to be there for you.


Fatigue, Discomfort and Personality Changes Can Raise Performance Issues

Even if your desire remains strong, your treatments may make you feel tired and unresponsive. You may be experiencing symptoms from the tumor itself – seizures, nausea, headaches – that make you reluctant to engage intimately. Perhaps you also feel sensitive to the changes in your relationship dynamics; a partner who was always more of a caregiver, for example, will suddenly need to be cared for.  It is not uncommon to need to renegotiate what is mutually satisfying for both of you.


Some Treatments Do Affect Sexual Function

The treatments you may undergo – surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, medications – can significantly affect sexual function, making intercourse challenging or uncomfortable. Some treatments may cause early menopause in women or impotence – temporary or in some cases permanent – in men. You may want to speak to your physician or a trained professional about your concerns.


You Don’t Have to Struggle with Intimacy Issues Alone

Your level of physical intimacy could very well change as a result of reduced self-confidence, performance anxiety, body-image issues, or side effects. But there are still ways to overcome obstacles and successfully achieve intimacy.

First, do not hesitate to ask for help. Your healthcare team will be happy to evaluate your potential medical, treatment, and psychological factors and come up with a plan to help you retain or regain your sexuality. That plan may include counseling, reading material, and perhaps even medication.

You and your partner may find that you can reconnect on an emotional level and provide comfort to one another through massage, bathing together, and simply hugging. During those times, enjoy a break from talking about the brain tumor or other stresses that are affecting your life together.


How Will My Treatments Affect My Fertility?

If you are in the reproductive years of life, you may be wondering how your treatment will affect your ability to create a child later on. The short answer is, “it depends.” The type of brain tumor you have, your prognosis, your age, and your specific type of chemotherapy drug will all affect your reproductive life.

You may want to discuss your concerns with your healthcare team and a fertility specialist. They can advocate and support those who want to retain their fertility if possible; if not, consider assisted reproduction, which will allow you to bank sperm or eggs or embryos for later usage.