Cancer Survivor: Can I Have an Intimate Relationship Again?

A reader wrote:

 I am 62, single, and once was a very sexually active woman. I’ve undergone treatment for breast cancer twice. My recovery required my full attention for years, but now I feel ready for new adventures — hopefully including sex. After rounds of chemotherapy, surgeries, radiation, and continued estrogen blocking medications, sex with another became a thing of the past. 

Currently, sexual intercourse may no longer be possible for me — but I still enjoy having orgasms and I desire the wonder of touch.
However, I am so concerned about my limitations as a sexual partner that I am afraid to attempt to date again. 

I have no idea what men in my age group expect or desire in terms of performance from their partners. What are woman experiencing in the 60-year-old dating world in terms of performance expectations? Would my current physical circumstance deter most men from being interested in exploring an intimate relationship with me?

I am grateful for this message and all it conveys about hope and healing and moving forward. I understand why you’re apprehensive. I would encourage you to get out there and go after what you want.

I know that many single men in our age group also fear “performance expectations”  when erections are no longer possible or predictable. There are many who would welcome a sexual partner who did not expect intercourse, who would be happy exchanging touch, oral and manual stimulation, and fabulous orgasms — without intercourse.

These men may be cancer survivors themselves, wanting to return fully to life, including sex and intimacy, but they don’t know how to navigate the dating world either — when to divulge the cancer, when to divulge the sexual issues.

You might find out if there’s a local cancer survivors’ singles group. Or try online dating: I did a search on “cancer survivors singles” and came up with several sites that promote themselves as dating sites for cancer survivors.

There’s even one — “2date4love” —  that “enables people who cannot engage in sexual intercourse to meet and experience love, companionship and intimacy.” I haven’t vetted any of these sites — if any of you have tried them, I hope you’ll share your experiences.

You don’t need to limit yourself to dating companions who share a similar medical history, though. Just be up front about your cancer on a first date if it looks like there’s potential for a second date. (If not, you don’t need to mention it.)

Then if you progress to a few dates and there’s chemistry, it’s important to explain that yes, you are interested in sex, but no, this might not include intercourse. Be prepared: Men who desire intercourse may want to discontinue getting to know you, and that’s okay.

When all the cards are on the table, if the relationship progresses, you have the delightful journey of exploring all the ways you can be sexual without intercourse!

Even when a date doesn’t progress to more, it’s still worth getting to know new people, “practicing” dating, trying out how to tell a potential partner about your needs, desires, and challenges.

If you take it all as part of the brave new world of dating experience, you don’t need to feel regretful or shamed when a new relationship (or potential relationship) doesn’t work out. Most of them will not work out — that’s the nature of the game.

Everything I’ve said so far presumed that you’re right that intercourse will not be possible for you. But please explore whether there are ways that you can heal yourself vaginally, if this is something you want to pursue. An excellent resource is “Vaginal Recuperation after Cancer or Surgery” from A Woman’s Touch, one of my favorite sexuality resource centers.

I hope you’ll check in again and share what you tried, how it worked for you, what you learned and gained.

I hope that you’ll share your thoughts, too, readers.

Valentine’s Day 2013

(Robert can’t stop laughing after pulling my hat down)

 For Valentine’s Day this year (2013), I’m re-publishing the post I wrote in 2011, updating it slightly.

I always loved Valentine’s Day with Robert. We bought each other gifts, professed our love for each other emphatically and often poetically. We spent the afternoon making love, glorying in the magic of  the powerful passion we felt for each other. We would love each other for hours — a candle lighted even in the bright light of afternoon, the bedroom door closed though we were alone in the house. I can still feel the touch of his skin, the sweet pressure of his lips. I hear the love words he muttered.

Dancing was always a part of our self-expression and love expression. One of “our songs” was Anne Murray’s “Could I Have This Dance?”

Could I have this dance
for the rest of my life?
Would you be my partner
Every night?
When we’re together,
It feels so right.
Could I have this dance
for the rest of my life?

Every Valentine’s Day and birthday — and sometimes New Year’s Eve, too! — he danced for me:  a special dance he had created just to please and entice me. He practiced for days in private, choosing the music,  the choreography, and the costume that he would shed slowly and sensuously as part of his dance.

2013: This is my fifth Valentine’s Day without Robert. It wasn’t until the third one that I was able to remember his special dances without crying. What beautiful gifts he gave me throughout our seven years together.  What beautiful gifts he gives me still, as I remember him.

For all of you who have a special loved one on this Valentine’s Day, glory in what you share. Never take for granted that “the rest of my life” means anything more than “this moment right now.”

For all of us who are unpartnered on this Valentine’s Day, let’s glory in the love we know how to give, and let’s give it to ourselves and the people in our lives today. Let’s do something special that nurtures us and delights us. Let’s make someone else feel special. Let’s celebrate our capacity to feel joy. The more love we give, the more we have within us.

On this 2013 update, a good friend is just home from the hospital after suffering a heart attack. “I died three times,” he told me — that’s how often they had to re-start his heart. We need to make a special point always of letting the people we love know that we love them. We never know how much time we have.

Whether or not you have a lover right now, you do have people in your life who make your life better just by being in it. On Valentine’s Day or any day, tell them how you feel.

Seniors Dating: Why so hard to find chemistry?

“Chemistry,” he said. “I searched through Naked at Our Age and I didn’t find that you discussed it at all. What are your thoughts?”

We were on a second date. Interesting question. What is chemistry, and how does it affect our choices of dating, pursuing a relationship, having sex?

I found myself discussing the importance and wonder of attraction /chemistry in generalities at first. We agreed that although attraction can grow through friendship, usually it’s either there or it’s not right from the beginning. We can think, this is an interesting, accomplished, fabulous person, and I really should feel attracted to him/her, but I’m not!

Then I went for complete candor: “For example,” I told him, “You’re an amazing person. But I just don’t feel any chemistry here.”

To my relief, he responded, “I feel the same way.”

Whew! We continued our conversation with gusto and interest, and agreed to see each other once in a while — as friends.

What determines whether there’s chemistry for us as seniors, specifically? I would guess that during childbearing years it serves a biological purpose — our biology is matching us with some people and not with others. But if we’re not looking for a mate to propagate the species but for other reasons entirely, why isn’t it easier to find that elusive chemistry? What purpose does the “no chemistry” warning serve at our age?

We discussed how you tell someone that the chemistry isn’t there. I think my friend’s approach (intentional or not) was excellent — ask the question first: “What is chemistry to you? Tell me your thoughts.” From there, it’s an easy transition to the admission that there isn’t chemistry between you.

What are your thoughts about chemistry, what purpose it serves at our age, and how you tell someone in a kind way that it isn’t there for you?

(I started this topic on my Naked at Our Age Facebook page, where we discuss all sorts of news and views about senior sex — I hope you’ll read and “like” that page and comment there on topics of interest to you.)

Senior Sex: Solo Style

Just when society is starting to accept that seniors are having — and enjoying! — sex, some of the most outspoken, sex-positive, seasoned women among us are not having sex. Some are choosing celibacy for now, some have fallen into it. Can we still be sex educators, sex writers, and sex activists if our orgasms are solo and we sleep with our pets? Yes!

Candida Royalleknown for pioneering the genre of woman-friendly erotic films and the Natural Contours line of intimate massagers, is the author of How to Tell a Naked Man What to Do. Candida wrote a marvelous piece for my new book, Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex (coming this June — finally!) about the importance of keeping ourselves sexually heathy when we’re not in a relationship.
How to Tell a Naked Man What to Do: Sex Advice from a Woman Who Knows
At age 59, Candida says she’s not in a hurry to find a new partner, but “I am committed to having a date with myself at least once a week to exercise my PC muscle, which runs along the pelvic floor and surrounds the entire vagina. Then I reward myself with a nice little session of self-pleasuring.”


Erica Manfred, divorced at sixty, is the author of He’s History You’re Not: Surviving Divorce After Forty. Erica contributed helpful tips to Naked at Our Age for getting through the devastating emotion- and ego-slamming period of a later-life divorce. 
He's History, You're Not: Surviving Divorce After 40In a recent Huffington Post article, Erica writes that at age 68, she has decided to give up on dating and sex. “It takes a hell of a lot of energy to date at my age,” the former sexual enthusiast writes. She’s not closing off the possibility of “getting my mojo back” in case Mr. Senior Right shows up at the supermarket, but she’s abandoning the online dating sites and cuddling her chihuahua.

Rachel Kramer Bussel is, at 35, the youngest of our sex-positive celibates. Rachel is an erotica author, sex columnist, and editor of 38 anthologies, including my favorite series: Best Sex Writing 2008, 2009 and 2010.

In an article she wrote for SexIs Magazine, Rachel revealed that she’s abstaining from sex and dating until her 36th birthday. (Note that the”sex” she is giving up is “physical, genital contact with another person,” leaving her free to indulge in phone sex and cybersex — fair enough.) She made this choice so that she could examine her “relationship errors” and “inappropriate attachments” and not go chasing immediately after the next hot encounter.

Is it hard to write about sex all day and not go after it at night? “Am I missing out on what’s supposed to be my sexual peak?” Rachel wonders. “Maybe friends with benefits is the best life can offer me and I’m being foolish or stupid to hold out for something more fulfilling. Or maybe I’ll find that I like being on my own so much I don’t ever want to actually join forces with someone else.”


I’ve divulged my own celibacy since losing Robert — on this blog in a shy way, and with more candor in Naked at Our Age (you’ll see!). I’ve started to date again, which so far means a series of sexless first dates. I’ve had some excitement (again, you’ll have to wait for Naked at Our Age!) but without the culmination of inviting a partner into my body.

Senior sex is still my intellectual, emotional, and career passion. My mission to normalize later-life sexuality in the eyes of society is as important to me now as when Robert and I were curling each other’s toes. I know I’m getting somewhere when seniors are seen as oddities when they’re not having sex!

As always, I welcome your comments!

Better Than I Ever Expected