Victoria Cullen1 Comment

Post Traumatic Growth after Cancer : "Anti-Fragile Sex"

Victoria Cullen1 Comment

I have a Skype client who regularly asks for advice on pleasurements for weekends away with her latest lovers. She is a living out French erotica, and she has undergone breast cancer treatment. She had never previously considered investing in pleasure with either time or money. 

One gentleman I interviewed recently is a multi-orgasmic tantric master, after prostate cancer treatment. The surgery took his erections, which led him to explore options outside of penetrative intercourse.

It is well known that health scares can serve as positive triggers to reassess our lives. Just don't forget that sex is a legitimate part of that equation.

More often I hear stories around how cancer treatment leads to sexual dismay. It seems intuitive to focus on the negative outcomes due to the physiological challenges. Chemotherapy can lower libido, reduce nerve-ending sensitivities and wipe out signs of physical arousal. Prostatectomy (removal of the prostate) is likely to cause erectile difficulties and incontinence.

However, I get the privilege of hearing first-hand stories from those who would say their sex life improved after a battle with adversity. Canadian researcher Richard Wassersug recently published a qualitative study

When Something Improves Under Stress..

Nassim Taleb is an economist/academic with a sideways approach to adversity. His book 'Antifragile' delves into observations of things that improve under pressure/ gain from disorder.

Antifragile is a word he coined to describe this fascinating life design we rarely attend to. We all know a crystal vase is fragile, if you drop it, it will break. A falling wooden spoon on the other hand is robust, it will maintain it's shape. But lifting weights at the gym builds strength over time despite the intense pressure on the muscles. So we can't say our arm muscles are fragile or robust, they are the opposite of fragile: anti-fragile.

After reading this book I'm now quite obsessed with finding ways in which stress and pressure on the body and mind cause this 'flourishing' effect. Most of us will at some time in our lives experience an intense and sudden amount of stress. Think back on the times you or someone close to you underwent a sudden change in health, relationship, career or finance. Imagine if rather than aiming to be robust and weather the blows we instead designed our lives to grow from these stresses?

Three ideas to start making your life (especially the sex bits) anti-fragile.

Options : One key aspect to designing anti-fragility is options. Taleb gives a career-related example. Someone skilled only in law and employed as a lawyer is in trouble if they lose work, their options are limited. As opposed to someone who works in law, but as a digital freelancer. They can find new opportunities in times of trouble by applying their skills and mindset to a new industry.

And of course, I have a crude sex analogy.

People who have one routined sexual behaviour, to those who explore different sexual practices. It might be helpful to redefine 'Sex' at this point. Sex often brings to mind a very specific sweaty grinding bodies image. But what if sex is just about discovering ways yourself and your partner derive mutual pleasure? Then it's actually an activity composed of infinite options. Looking into pleasure-practices such as Tantra, kink, toys, positions and massage can help to expand your repertoire.

Mindset : An anti-fragile mindset is in itself a step forward. Deciding that when you fall over a hurdle you will use this as an opportunity to explore something better. Rather than trying to return things to the way they were, go another way. It's why I refer to sex after physiological change as "sexual re-navigation". The same mindset you would apply to finding your way to your favourite park around impending construction works. Our behaviour flows from our values and thoughts, success therefore depends upon this foundation.

What do you 100% control?: Knowing what you have and have not got control over is crucial. You cannot control how another person will react and what they will do. But you do have control over what you do and how you react. An example to do with sexuality (because why else am I here?!) : you have control over deciding to figure out what turns you on and then bringing that into your relationship. Too often I hear this the other way round with phrases like "he should know what turns me on" or "she didn't know what she was doing". No one can know you like you know yourself, if you haven't told your partner what turns you on, how are they supposed to know? And if you don't know, take some time out alone to figure it out (also known as the best homework assignment ever). 

TED talk by Michael Russer discussing how sexual dysfunction after prostate cancer forced him to re-consider and re-navigate intimacy.

I help men after prostate cancer treatment recover and adapt to sexual function changes. I am a PhD researcher and sexual recovery consultant based in Melbourne, Australia,