Navigating Intimacy and Sex Post-Cancer Treatment with Dr. Lyndsey Harper, Founder of Rosy
Women’s health is grossly underrepresented in the sexual health space.
There are many patient stories, such as this one by Diane Mapes, where she notes her doctor's didn't even bring up the impacts on sex when she was getting her double mastectomy.
She didn't even think to bring it up, because they hadn’t emphasized it when informing her about the procedure.
Lucky for her, she spoke to other cancer patients and had somewhat of an idea of what to expect. But, if you don’t have anyone to relate to—the already daunting task of navigating intimacy post cancer treatment—becomes even more overwhelming.
What used to come naturally, may now feel like you have to start from scratch.
It's important women in this position feel empowered to seek out information on how to improve their sex life, post-cancer treatment.
Dr. Lyndsey Harper is a board-certified OB/GYN and a Fellow of the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health. During her time practicing, she saw the gross underrepresentation and lack of resources when it came to women's sexual health.
That's what prompted her to create the app, Rosy. This app is designed to empower women to receive answers to their sexual health questions, and have access to resources that will help improve their sexual wellness. The app also contains a specific section designed by an oncologist and psychologist, that’s focused on addressing intimacy for cancer survivors and patients.
In this interview, Dr. Lyndsey Harper walks us through common concerns she’s seen her patients have when navigating intimacy post-chemo. Dr. Harper also walks us through her app Rosy, and how it can help women facing sexual health concerns.
Brilliantly: Based on your experience as an OBGYN, what are some common concerns patients have when navigating sex post chemo?
Dr. Harper: Women face many sexual challenges during and after cancer treatment. Most commonly, women describe painful sex and also a lack of desire to have sex. This can be a result of many things including surgery, lack of hormones, fatigue, decreased lubrication, anxiety, depression, and body image changes.
Brilliantly: Do you recommend patients have sex while undergoing chemo? If not, how soon after chemo is it okay to have sex?
Each situation is different and women are at different stages of readiness so it is impossible to have a blanket statement about sex during chemo. I would counsel that if a woman desires to have sex during chemo that she explore that option, however she feels comfortable. Whatever she decides, open communication with your partner and healthcare team is absolutely key to navigating these changes successfully.
Brilliantly: What are some tips you have for helping patients build back intimacy after chemo/surgery?
Take it slowly
Use lubrication (and lots of it)
Talk to your partner about sex and how you are feeling
Explore ways of being intimate other than penetrative sex
If you are having pain or other sexual issues, talk to your healthcare team about vaginal trainers, pelvic floor physical therapy, and medication options that can make this part of life better for you. If they don’t have the answers you are looking for, ask again or consult with another healthcare professional.
Brilliantly: Could you tell us a little bit more about Rosy, and how it could help women who are looking to build back intimacy?
Dr. Harper: Rosy is an evidence-based app created by doctors and therapists for women with sexual concerns. We have education, self-help, and connection to experts and other women experiencing the same issues. Rosy helps women know they are not alone in their struggles, and helps them find the answers they need to work through sexual health challenges. More specifically, Rosy collaborated with an oncologist and a psychologist to create a program for cancer survivors and thrivers.
Brilliantly: What is something you wish more people knew about intimacy, especially when navigating intimacy after a big life change?
Whatever problem you might be facing, there are interventions that can help you! The world is silent about women’s health struggles. This compounds these issues for women by silencing the connection between the women who are suffering, and the professionals who are passionate and knowledgeable in these areas. We need to start these important conversations as often as possible, with our partners, in our doctor’s offices, and amongst groups of women. We deserve the same attention to our sexual health and cancer’s effects as men receive.
What’s your experience been when navigating intimacy post-cancer? Do you feel you had the resources you needed?
Please leave a comment below and let us know what you wish you were told about intimacy, before you started your cancer treatment.
We hope that by raising awareness to this very real issue, we can empower more women out there to seek help and the resources they need to improve their sexual health and wellness.
Dr. Lyndsey Harper
Dr. Harper is a board-certified OB/GYN and a Fellow of the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health.
When Dr. Harper was in private practice, she noticed she didn’t have the resources needed to help her many patients with sexual problems and concerns.
In response to this need and her outrage that this was the state of women’s sexual health, she created Rosy.
The Rosy app addresses issues by providing women and their physicians with evidence-based resources for women’s sexual health. Be sure to check out Rosy in the app store, as well as on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.