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“How can I talk to my partner so they understand that cancer treatment has changed the way I feel about my body without it being about their performance?”

Sex toy expert Renee says...

This is a tricky one, and we have a couple of questions for you: Has cancer treatment changed the way your body responds to stimulation? Or is it more how you feel about how your body looks if its landscape has changed? The answer to your question depends a little upon your answers to our questions, as there could be several reasons the way you feel about your body has changed.

An honest, sit-down conversation with your partner is needed. Your partner needs to put their ego aside during this conversation. This is more about you than about them, after all. The best time to do this is outside of the bedroom, and at a time when you are both feeling relaxed. Think about what you’d like to say ahead of time, and maybe practice a few times so you feel confident in what you want to say. You could even write a list to help yourself remember, as it might feel a little scary in the moment. You will need to renegotiate pleasure and sex together, and you’ll need to explore new ways of pleasuring each other. It’s not a bad thing, and it could even be hugely exciting!

Patient advocate Elvin says...

Talk candidly, honestly and lovingly to your partner about how you feel about your body. Specifically, try to discuss why you feel the way you do. The goal is to develop open, two-way communication on this highly sensitive subject.

You should seek their thoughts, feelings and observations about your perception of your body. You should also seek their thoughts, feelings and observations on how you both should embrace this “new you”, and how you can both ensure you are pleasuring one another, and both attaining deep satisfaction from that sexual pleasure.

At all times be as sensitive as you can to one another’s feelings. Allow time and space for you both to make mistakes, and pledge from the beginning that if this is going to be a very positive experience, you should allow for the odd bump along the way.

Pyschosexual therapist Kate says...

Conversations about sex are difficult enough to have without them being paired with cancer, so remember that most of us are starting from the point of these conversations not coming naturally to us.

Many people who have been through serious illness and/or medical treatments describe a sense of separating from their body in some way to get through it. Cancer can be invasive. People talking about your body, examining your body, and touching your body in ways that are medicalised and functional can mean that we lose sight of how to use our body for other reasons.

When communicating to your partner about the changes that you feel, talk with ownership of your feelings using ‘I’ statements. Avoid saying things like ‘When you do X…’ or ‘You make me feel…’, as they can be received as blaming and that will likely make your partner defensive and then unable to hear what you are trying to tell them. Start the conversation with a positive about your relationship and what you enjoy and do like. Also try to be specific as that will help them to be clear about any dos and don’ts – when you are vague it can create worry about ‘doing the wrong thing’ as you both haven’t understood each other correctly. This is also an opportunity for you to talk together about what you are enjoying, what you want to try and are interested in, and what you think could work. After cancer and treatment you may need to adapt to move with your body, its changes and how you feel about it, but treat this as an opportunity to learn about each other.