Intimacy After Illness

How to Enjoy Intimacy After Illness

“The Universe contains three things that cannot be destroyed; Being, Awareness and LOVE”– Dr. Deepak Chopra

One situation that makes it difficult to find a silver lining is facing illness. Just consider the
top five medical threats: heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic respiratory diseases, and
Alzheimer’s disease.

Not exactly a happy list, right?

Illness and Intimacy

Anyone who has suffered from illness knows that feeling of helplessness and fear of a future without intimacy. Maintaining positive mental health can be a tremendous aid in dealing with challenges like this. In fact, while your fears about your partner’s illness may compel you to push away the person you love the most, this could be an opportunity to
enhance intimacy.

Most couples that really love each other discover that their love grows stronger and their passion deeper after trauma because they no longer take each other for granted. They fall back in love and want to treasure every moment. This is the time to start re-creating
romantic memories together, to say and do all the things you did when you first met and some you never did before.

Recapturing Intimacy After Illness

Rabbi Ed Weinberg, Ed.D., DD, offers a lot of great insight into overcoming illness and recapturing your intimacy in his book, Conquer Prostate Cancer: How Medicine, Faith, Love and Sex Can Renew Your Life. Guided by Rabbi Ed’s heart-centered coaching, men and women learn to reignite intimacy physically, emotionally and spiritually — loving and living with renewed joy. He believes that physical intimacy can help a man or woman offset some of their frustrations when one or both have a sexual dysfunction that
prevents intercourse or orgasm.

It’s my pleasure to share Rabbi Ed’s advice on how you and your partner can get your sexual life back despite prostate cancer.


1. Decide to “make love,” rather than “have sex.” Physical intimacy can help a man or woman offset some of their frustrations when one or both have a sexual dysfunction that prevents intercourse or orgasm. To offset this, recognize that orgasm is possible for many, although not everyone, even when men can’t have erections due to ED or women have female sexual dysfunctions (FSD).

Don’t insist that your manhood is exclusively based on your capacity for intercourse. Instead of sexual intercourse, make bonding with your partner your main objective. It’s understandable that losing sexual functioning can lead to a sense of emasculation as a man or deficiency as a woman. Still, if you accept that “making love” rather than “having sex” is at the core of your most intimate moments, you may find increasing sexual satisfaction. This is not a question of semantics, but a way to reframe what intimacy is all about.

2. Focus on different body sensations before engaging in intercourse, using the S-T-I-C-K method for “whole body sex.” This is a variation of progressive “sensate focus” for gradually
increasing arousal. Couples may choose to alternate this suggested sequence of sensual activities or combine some of these steps:

S – Stroke each other psychologically. Almost everyone needs to be stroked. Start with verbal expressions of what you admire most about each other and what attracts you to each other intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

T – Touch each other physically, starting with a hug, whether clothed or not. Proceed to mutual massages, front and back, gradually progressing from your shoulders to your waist,
avoiding your partner’s breasts. Then proceed to touch or massage each other’s legs before gently caressing erogenous zones like each other’s breasts, thighs and genitals.

I – Intercourse can be attempted right after stroking and touching, or later if you are “up” for it – but don’t rush it! Many men, including early stage and advanced prostate or breast
cancer patients and survivors, may find their sexual frustration persists despite the satisfaction they can derive from whole body alternative sex play. If ED or FSD persists, the couple can consider a soft entry approach, with the man’s flaccid penis rubbing the surface of his partner’s genitalia. Using a dildo and harness can also be mutually satisfying, and if both partners apply lubrication both men and women can make this a more pleasant and pleasurable experience. A penile implant, requiring about 1 1⁄2 hours of surgery, is another option for men to eliminate ED altogether.

C – Cuddle without initial expectations of anything but deriving warmth and support, physically and emotionally.

K – Kiss each other gently on the lips, cheeks, and back. Then go below the neck, but above the waist. From there, your lips can go elsewhere, if mutually acceptable (compare “T”). Adding a mixture of whipped cream or your favorite chocolate can heighten your pleasure.

3. Communicate openly and often with your spouse or partner. Be truly present when talking with your beloved about non-sexual matters. After all, you can have smooth, ongoing relations only if you have a good relationship! Set aside time to talk with your spouse or partner about your personal needs, especially sexual intimacy. If talking explicitly about sex is awkward for either of you, you can each write down what you need or want from each other and then compare notes and follow up.

Explore alternatives as well like tantric sex exercises, originally derived from 6,000 year-old Indian practices that help lovers focus on each other for a prolonged time. This involves mutual eye contact and parallel movement and breathing, to become fully present and
at one with each other and potentially multi-orgasmic. Attending a Marriage Enrichment weekend retreat can also reinforce your connection with your significant other on many levels.

4. Schedule times to rev up your romance. Sexual relations are hard to sustain without developing a good relationship. Set dates with each other to allow for greater nonsexual intimacy, such as seeing a movie or going to a restaurant or concert together. Use scented candles and wear special pajamas or lingerie (or nothing at all!) with soft lighting, to set the mood for increased physical intimacy.

5. Watch a hot movie together that appeals to your sense of humor. Agree to rent a steamy film for home or hotel room viewing to help get you and your partner in the mood to become physical. Make sure you do not choose a film that is going to turn one of you on, but the other off, and remember that a humorous show can warm you up to each other! Keep in mind that some educational films, though approved by sexologists, may be boring and fail to arouse couples, so preview films to see what works best for you.

6. Develop a healthy lifestyle. Exercise regularly and eat a balanced, heart-healthy, low-sugar diet for weight control and improved sleep. Reduce alcohol intake to avoid sluggishness and eliminate smoking to enhance genital blood flow. Such steps can renew your level of energy and reduce performance anxiety. Let your mantra be, “I enjoy my sexercises” to maintain penile or vaginal blood flow through self or mutual-stimulation. Start this as soon as possible after a health procedure such as cancer surgery or other procedures, in consultation with your doctor.

Daily Kegel exercises, with the help of biofeedback if needed, can strengthen your pelvic floor and sphincter muscles. While these won’t raise your libido, Kegels can help with ED and FSD. They will also help “stem the tide” for those with mild incontinence.

7. Keep the faith. To conquer ED or FSD and raise your libido, have faith in your Higher Power, your doctor, your spouse, and above all, yourself. Regarding sexual activity as sacred or purposeful can make for a more powerful experience.

It’s important to recognize that stress, treatment side effects, and the aging process can affect not only seniors but boomers and younger men and women as well. Simply knowing you are not alone in your efforts to renew your life physically, emotionally and spiritually can help. It’s equally important, though, to realize that you can bounce back from ED/FSD and a low libido if you resolve to rely on your resilience and your adaptability to new forms of sexual expression.

This kind of faith can raise you to new heights!

Breast Cancer

With over 280,000 new cases of breast cancer each year in the United States, there are over 2.5 million survivors of breast cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, about one out of every two women who have undergone breast cancer treatment experiences some kind of sexual dysfunction.

When a woman has a mastectomy to remove all or part of her breast(s), her body may be capable of sexual response, but sexual desire is one of the last things on her mind. It’s no surprise that many women feel very distressed after a mastectomy as in our culture breasts are viewed as part of a woman’s femininity and sex appeal. Not to mention that touching breasts is a common part of foreplay and she will no longer want or be able to experience the same way as before the surgery. Breast reconstruction may restore the shape and size of the breast(s) and help a woman to feel more attractive so that she can enjoy dating or being sexual with her partner, but the physical and emotional healing process is much bigger than a simple cosmetic fix and requires a tremendous amount of time, understanding and respect.

Being single and dating when diagnosed with breast cancer is even more challenging as talking about it to a potential romantic partner can be very awkward and scary. Nevertheless, getting out and socializing is part of the healing process and will help you to
feel normal again. There is a fine balance that needs to be walked between respecting your own needs while also trying to push yourself a bit beyond your comfort level in order to reengage with the world.

Small steps are important because even the smallest connection with another person can aid the healing process.

According to the American Breast Cancer Society, breast cancer is about 100 times less common among men than women. For men, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000 compared to women at about 1 in 8. Twelve percent of women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime.

Undergoing extensive treatment from surgery to medication, chemotherapy or radiation can be detrimental to your sexiness. Stress, anxiety, changes in body image, side effects of treatment, pain, hormone fluctuations and depression can negatively affect your libido. However, the good news is that you can heal and regain your sexual health.

Spinal Cord Injury

Research by Barry Komisaruk, Beverly Whipple (“The Science of Orgasm”) and their colleagues has shown that women with complete spinal cord injury can respond to vaginal or cervical self-stimulation because they could perceive it, with some reporting an orgasmic response. A spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, or major illness does not diminish a person’s sexuality, although it may change a person’s feeling about sex.

Intimate communication with your partner can be challenging, but remember nobody can read your mind, so tell each other what is working and what isn’t. Being direct with other people helps the relationship grow. However, some people who have intellectual or physical disabilities may find it hard to express their anxieties about body image or limited sexual function. Show your personality and humor during these uncomfortable moments because laughter can make the situation more comfortable.

Thinking Off

If there is an inability to experience sexual release, some say that sexual energy can be moved up into the mind. Channel, build, utilize and move the energy into having a mental orgasm. Start by visualizing the orgasmic flow inside you, knowing that orgasm is within and focus on erotic feelings that lead to physical tingling orgasmic waves as they pulse through your body.

There has been some scientific research on energy orgasms. Most notably, Dr. Beverly Whipple calls it “Thinking Off ” and says that you can use imagery alone to reach an orgasm, but the idea of thinking yourself to orgasm is not new. In the early 1970’s, the Masters and Johnson research team documented the strong connection between sexuality and thought. The connection is particularly strong in women, says
Dr. Ian Kerner, “The brain is the most powerful sex organ.”


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