Support Tools: Sexuality and Intimacy on the Brain Tumour Journey

Rebuilding intimacy and feeling confident in your sexuality while on the brain tumour journey can be a struggle for many. It is common for both women and men to have concerns and questions about sexuality and sexual activity during and after receiving treatment for a brain tumour.

Despite being a normal and important aspect of health, your health care provider may not initiate conversations about sexuality and intimacy. It is helpful for patients to feel comfortable with their health care team and avoid hesitation in discussing their feelings or asking questions about the impact of brain tumour treatments on sexual health.

The following tips may help with rebuilding intimacy, strengthening your relationship with your partner and enhancing your self-confidence as a sexual being.

  • Allow yourself time

    You and your partner will need time to adjust to the physical and emotional changes a brain tumour brings into your life. Patience is key as you adjust to the side effects of treatments (e.g. stress, pain, depression or fatigue), which can lower your desire for sexual activity. Also, give yourself time to accept and become comfortable with changes to your body.


  • Communicate with your partner

    Communication is an important tool for building intimacy, especially when facing a life changing health concern like a brain tumour. Common anxieties around resuming sexual activity after brain tumour treatment include: pain during sex, the inability to perform, or that your partner will no longer find you attractive. Additionally, your partner may also have anxiety about putting pressure on you by initiating sexual activity. Talking openly about your feelings allows you and your partner to understand each other’s needs and preferences.


  • Make adjustments

    After brain tumour treatment, some sexual positions may become painful and certain activities that were once pleasurable may not be anymore. Trying new positions or forms of sexual activity may help alleviate discomforts and allow you to discover new pleasures. Guide your partner and explore your desires together.


  • Validate your feelings

    It is normal for you and your partner to have your own questions and concerns about sexuality and intimacy. It is important to listen to each other’s feelings and point of view without interrupting or being dismissive. Try not to take things personally and empathize with your partner. Avoid vague statements like “Everything is going to be great.” Instead use supportive language like “Although I can’t fix it, I am here for you.”, or “It must be frustrating adjusting to all these changes.”


  • Get reacquainted with each other

    The relationship you share with your partner may have become disconnected over the course of the brain tumour journey. Emotional closeness and companionship are important and can help rebuild physical intimacy as well. You may choose to start rebuilding the relationship slowly by cuddling, kissing and touching. Find intimacy in the small pleasures like touch, holding hands and simply relaxing together. Making a point to say, “I love you” to your partner each day further strengthens your connection to one another.


  • Experiment with alternative forms of intimacy

    Even if sexual intercourse is not possible, you can still maintain intimacy through loving affection and touch. “Setting the mood” can facilitate an intimate environment such as dimming the lights and putting on romantic music. Treat yourselves by getting creative with lingerie or giving your partner a massage. Focus on the sensual, rather than the sexual aspects. Within this mind frame, regular activities like hugging, going for a walk, watching a movie, bathing or reading together can create intimacy.


  • Set aside special time for intimacy

    Levels of sexual desire often vary during brain tumour treatment. Planning sexual activity for times that your energy levels are highest may be most helpful. For many, a partner may have moved into a caregiving role, making it difficult to feel sexy around each other. Attempt to clearly separate time for caregiving and intimate time together as a couple; as this may enhance your sexual confidence.


  • Enhance your self-image

    Brain tumour treatment can affect your body image, feelings of attractiveness and desirability. Simple changes like a new hairstyle, wig, makeup, or clothing may help you feel better about appearance. Your doctor may recommend also medical options to help with changes in appearance and hormonal imbalances. It is important to remember changes or deficits caused by treatment do not make you less feminine/masculine.


  • Communicate with your health care provider

    Many doctors are uncomfortable initiating discussions around your sex life during brain tumour treatment unless you ask. Although it can be an uncomfortable discussion, it is a necessary one to have. Your doctor can clear up concerns you may have, including the impact of chemo therapy, radiation and surgery on sexual function. It is also important to openly inform your doctor about any sexual dysfunction you experience throughout treatment so that they may continue to help you grow on the journey.


  • Get physically and mentally healthy

    Regular exercise and good nutrition can help stimulate sexual desire by increasing energy and improving your mood. Talk to your doctor or health care provider about what type of exercise is best for you. Often depression associated with a serious health issue like a brain tumour can lead to a lost interest in sex. If you think you may be depressed, talk with your doctor and adopt relaxation techniques to reduce stress anxiety and muscle tension.


  • Seek professional help

    For many couples, a trained professional (such as a counsellor or therapist) can help facilitate communication. You may find value in talking with a social worker, nurse, chaplain or friend. In addition, support groups can give you both a place to voice your fears and concerns with others in a similar situation. By talking openly about issues with trusted support systems, you come up with new ways to build intimacy in your relationship.


  • Work with your partner as a team

    During brain tumour treatment, it is especially important to work together with your partner. The closeness and companionship that comes from teamwork can help you feel more secure and in control. By communicating effectively and making an effort to maintain intimacy, your relationship can flourish in the face of serious illness.

There are many ways to overcome obstacles and successfully achieve intimacy while on the brain tumour journey. Do not hesitate to ask for help when you need it. You and your partner, together with your healthcare team can evaluate your potential medical, treatment, and psychological factors and develop a plan to help you regain and retain your sexuality, while also enhancing intimacy.

We hope these suggestions will give you the confidence to start the talk with your health care provider and partner today.


This article was provided by Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada Support Services Specialist.
To contact a member of the Support Services team, please call 1-800-265-5106.


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