| Tara Langdale
Sex After Cancer for Women Over 60: How Dilators Can Help
Studies have shown that more than half of men and women in their 60s still have sex regularly. Interestingly, older women also report more sexual satisfaction after their mid-60s, probably because they have more experience, free time, familiarity and comfort with their partner, and fewer worries. Whatever the reason, if you have a good sex life, it’s something you may well want to hold onto. So what happens when cancer treatment comes into the equation? What is sex like after cancer for women in their 60s?
It’s a common circumstance, so if you’re in this situation, you probably have various questions about how cancer treatment will affect your sex life if you’re over 60. Your body has already been through the menopause, but what other issues could chemotherapy or radiotherapy bring? We aim to answer these questions in the paragraphs below.
How does cancer treatment affect your sex life?
Cancer and cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy are likely to affect your sex life (at least for a time) at any age. Cancer treatments cause physical, emotional and practical changes. For example:
- Certain bodily functions may be impaired
- The way your body looks and feels may change
- You can feel sick or exhausted
- You may be stressed, distracted or worried about treatment outcomes
- Your daily routine may change
Oftentimes a change in one area of life influences other areas, and this combination can really put a dampener on desire levels, for a time at least. Usually this doesn’t long, but your sex life after 60 is likely different than when you were younger, and you probably don’t have sex as often as you did 20 years ago. Therefore, it might take longer for you to feel ‘in the mood’ after cancer treatment.
On top of this, your body will take longer to recover at this age, so it is important to take your time. Equally, you may need to mentally and emotionally prepare to adjust to changes that might even be permanent.
Is it safe for older women to have sex after cancer treatment?
If you have recovered enough from your cancer treatment to feel like having sex, you might be wondering if sex is safe for older women with cancer (or post-cancer). The good news is that sex and physical intimacy doesn’t exacerbate cancer, or pass it on to your partner. Nor will it make cancer come back if it is in remission. Therefore, if you feel up to sex, you should be fine to have it. In fact, it is probably a good idea to try and return to your usual sexual habits sooner rather than later.
The only times it may not be safe to have sex after cancer in your 60s is:
- You had surgery or radiotherapy in the pelvic region and need time to properly heal
- You had a strong chemo dose or stem cell therapy (making you more prone to infection)
- You had radioisotope therapy, in which case physical intimacy should be avoided temporarily (your partner may be affected by the radiation)
You may find it helpful to read our recent article, ‘How soon after chemo can you have sex?’. However, this is not specifically aimed at women over 60, and it may also be wise to consult your Doctor if you’re unsure if it’s safe to have sex after cancer treatment.
How will cancer treatment affect your sex life if you’re an older woman?
After the age of around 45, sexual hormones might be in shorter supply, resulting in a lower sex drive. From then onward, women typically progress toward the menopause. During this time, estrogen levels lower even more and the body starts to go through physical changes too. Namely:
- Thinning vaginal tissues and skin
- Less lubrication
- Less blood flow to the area
If you’re over 60, you will already be familiar with menopause symptoms. Sex is often more difficult after the menopause, until a woman settles into the changes and develops a different approach to sex.
If an older woman has radiotherapy or chemotherapy, she need not worry about it bringing on the menopause, as it can often do for younger women. Radiotherapy in the pelvic region can stop the womb and ovaries from functioning normally, leading to menopause and infertility.
So, what might happen to your sex life if you’re over 60 and have had pelvic radiation treatment? The treatment may either cause or worsen issues such as:
- Lack of elasticity in the tissues
- Fibrosis (development of fibrous connective tissue, which narrows and tightens the vagina)
- Vaginal atrophy
As you get older (and particularly after the menopause) the vagina gets shorter and narrower, which is known as vaginal stenosis. Fibrosis after cancer treatment may cause or worsen stenosis. Vaginal atrophy, or atrophic vaginitis, also commonly occurs after menopause. Vaginal atrophy symptoms include:
- Vaginal dryness
- Vaginal burning
- Vaginal discharge
- Genital itching
- Burning or urgency when urinating
- Urinary incontinence
- Light bleeding or discomfort during or after sex
The good news is that there is way to improve your sex life after cancer treatment: vaginal dilators, which come recommended by most Doctors and women’s health practitioners.
How dilators can restore sex life for older women
Dilators are smooth, tube-shaped devices made from medical grade plastic or silicone. They come in different sizes to suit your capacity, and to allow you to slowly and gently expand the vagina to restore normal function. A vaginal dilator is the ideal tool for stretching out any scar tissue that has formed in the vagina.
If you have vaginal atrophy or stenosis after cancer treatment, vaginal dilators can really help. The key is to start with smaller dilators until you can tolerate the larger sizes, at which point sex should be much more comfortable. We have a neodymium magnetic dilator range that especially helps atrophic vaginitis, vaginal stenosis and vaginal pain.
Dilators are designed to expand the vaginal walls, which all of our dilators do. However, our magnetic dilators can also encourage elasticity to return to the tissues more quickly, as the strategically placed magnets encourage even more blood flow to the area. This regenerates cells, soothes nerves and relieves pain at the same time.
Women over 60 who had cancer treatment may benefit from using dilators for the rest of their lives, since scarring can occur at any time – even after treatment has ended. However, for the first 6 months you should use your vaginal dilators regularly, with a water-soluble lubricant. Between 6 and 12 months you may only need to use the dilators once a week, and if after 12 months your capacity is restored and sex is not uncomfortable, you may only wish to use them occasionally.
Rest assured that your sex life can and almost certainly will return to ‘normal’, or at the very least, a place you are comfortable and happy with. It may take some time and effort if you are over 60 and had cancer, but you will be able to enjoy sex again.
VuVa Helpful Links: