What do you think of when you hear the term “self-care”? If you’re like me, you flip on your mental Natalie Imbruglia , light the candles, and get deep and pensive and… you know, torn. “Self-care” in the mental health community is about as loaded as the word “resources” in the healthcare world.
I’m going to throw it back to my social work training and define this big, abstract term. Self-care is not just important—it’s absolutely essential to your health. Self-care means just what you think it means… taking care of oneself. Yeah, no kidding. No, but seriously—it means taking care of your WHOLE self. Sure, part of that might be Natalie Imbruglia—but it also means you allow yourself the space and time to take care of your mental, spiritual, and physical self. If that means you, too, flip on Natalie, more power to you.
For others, though, it might mean:
- Asking your partner to put the kids to bed so you can have that time alone
- Taking 10 minutes in the morning to stretch and write in a journal
And for Others, it might be way less “woo-woo”:
- Throw on a pair of sneakers and hit the streets for a jog
- Drink Metamucil every day (no joke)
Whatever it is—you know when you’re your best self. Self-care means giving yourself permission to do those things. If you need inspiration check out this video about the whole emotional first aid thing.
So then, what the heck is sexual self-care?
At first glance, it just seems like a call to action to masturbate more. (Don’t worry—a future blog post all about masturbation is coming.) While an orgasm may be part of it, sexual self-care is all about yourself as a WHOLE person. Adding the “sexual” simply emphasizes the fact that sex is a basic human function. In other words, a healthy relationship with sex and our bodies is part of what makes us whole.
1. Sexual self-care means understanding your likes, dislikes, and knowing that if those change, it’s OK.
Sexual preferences may change over time because of age, treatment of cancer, and plain old evolution of preference. Sexual self-care means that you keep checking in on these preferences. There are times when you’re forced to confront these preferences head on. Like after mastectomy, for example. Today, there are more than 3.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States of whom about one-third have undergone mastectomy. For those who have undergone breast reconstructive surgery after mastectomy, evidence shows that a reconstructed breast lacks the sensation of a non-reconstructed breast. We know from women seen in Dr. Lindau’s PRISM clinic that sexual preferences often change because of altered breast function. If you’re experiencing this, know this is normal.
Knowing your likes and dislikes, whether or not you’ve had a mastectomy, could also look something like: trying a new lubricant, sex position, or vibrator. Which leads to point 2…
2. Sexual self-care means communication.
With yourself, your partner (if you have one), and your doctor. It means that when things change or don’t feel good—or heck, feel great—say it out loud! (Heck yes, I did love that new vibrator!)
Mastectomy, for example, forces you to face big, personal decisions like “going flat” or reconstructing. I know I’m not saying anything new when I say there are no easy answers; what’s right for one woman may not be for another. What I am saying, however, is that making an authentic decision means communicating about your fears, trepidations, and questions. That looks like asking your doctor questions about your treatment options as they relate to your sexual function and knowing that professionals like sex therapists are there as a resource as well. Asking questions about treatment options isn’t just informing your healthcare. It’s sexual self-care.
3. Sexual self-care means patience
I’m not saying you need to evolve into Mother Theresa or the Dalai Lama here—I’m saying that sexual self-care means being patient with yourself, first and foremost. Knowing, or even relearning, what your sex life looks like during and after cancer takes time. There will be trial and error—and, going back to #2—there will be plenty of opportunity to talk through it.
Whether you’re working through a graded set of dilators (don’t worry, I had to Google that too, blog coming soon) or trying your 145th type of lube to see what works best for you, this takes time. It means you have to give yourself the space to navigate the new waters.
Sexual self-care isn’t complicated… but it also doesn’t happen overnight. Over the next several weeks you’ll learn more concrete strategies for sexual self-care, but knowing your preferences, communication, and patience is where it all starts.
What are your sexual self-care practices? What, if anything, would you add or change to the above list? Tweet us at @WomanLab_ or share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.