You may have noticed that several of the posts in the last week have been about the wonderful world of lubrication.
There’s a reason for that!
Earlier this year, I was introduced to SYLK.
SYLK is an all-natural lubricant made from the vine of the New Zealand kiwi. This ingredient means that SYLK is able to mimic the natural lubrication of the body thanks to polysaccharides. SYLK is made in the US, despite the location of the plant.
Remember some of the icky things we talked about watching out for in lube – parabens, silicones, and scents/flavors/dyes? Of those, SYLK only has glycerin and, even then, natural glycerin from the vine. This means it’s safe to use with just about any condom, dental dam, sex toy, and more!
It’s been being sold in New Zealand and Australia for over 30 years, and in Europe for 20. It’s also sustainable which is pretty badass.
After receiving positive and rave reviews on Amazon and elsewhere from people struggling with illness-related sexual issues, the company began to learn more about what we all go through with illnesses and sexuality. Recently, SYLK reached out to a number of people in the chronic illness blogging world across disease types from Lupus Chick to the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation and more.
I struggle with vaginal dryness. It’s like my body doesn’t respond to natural turn-ons anymore, like the connection between my emotions and my vagina is non-existent. Therefore, sex isn’t always comfortable for me simply because I don’t always practice what I preach and utilize lube.
Well, one of the problems that I have with lubes is that they get sticky. It may not always bother me, but definitely always bothers my partner.
It’s not sexy to feel like you fell into a vat of wet cotton candy.
When I got SYLK to try, then, I was excited to see how things went.
Real talk: it was a surreal moment to realize having sex was totally a part of my job, but I digress.
We really enjoyed the consistency of the lubricant and how effective it was. It also was more similar to my body’s own lubrication and didn’t leave the same sticky residue. In fact, any leftover stickies were easily taken care of with a wet washcloth or bathroom wipe.
As I went through the rest of my day, my vagina wasn’t sticky and it also didn’t feel like there was a glob of incompatible goo jammed up there.
Winners will be chosen at random on Halloween by Rafflecopter and then contacted for their information, which will then be shared with our contact at SYLK for shipping. We do have samples of SYLK that will be included in future giveaways so stay tuned if you don’t win this round! Please also note: While I received SYLK for free in order to evaluate it, I received no other compensation for this post.
Today, we’re talking with Leslie Schover, the founder of a company called Will2Love. Will2Love focuses on “empowering cancer survivors and their loved ones, with expert guidance on the journey to sexual wellness and parenthood.” Leslie is a clinical psychologist who has been recognized internationally as an expert on sexual problems and infertility related to cancer treatment and other chronic illnesses. I had the pleasure of meeting her at Medicine X this year.
What is Will2Love and how did it get started?
Will2Love is a digital health startup company that offers online help to men and women struggling with cancer-related sexuality issues. Free content at Will2Love.com includes blog posts, moderated online forums, webinars (to start soon), and an extensive section of resource links. Starting in January 2017, we will also be offering online self-help programs for men and women for a modest monthly subscription fee. We will also have patient advocates providing coaching by videoconference and are working on building a network of expert psychologists. Currently, the law limits psychologists to counseling patients only in a state where the psychologist is licensed.
Will2Love grew out of my frustration that over a 35-plus year career at MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Cleveland Clinic. I still saw so many patients not get the timely, accurate help they needed with sex and fertility. We had three small business grants from the National Cancer Institute to develop our self-help programs, so we actually did clinical trials that demonstrated they helped people improve knowledge, distress, and sexual function/satisfaction.
What are some of the self-worth or self-esteem issues that many breast cancer patients may experience?
Breast cancer patients sometimes feel like “damaged goods” if they are having trouble enjoying sex because of pain and loss of desire. Women are socialized to be caregivers and often have difficulty when they, themselves, need help. Changes in appearance are also common, but I think “body image” issues are not as devastating as some of the other physical damage directly to sexual function, memory and attention, long-term fatigue, and fear of recurrence.
We know that each person is different, meaning their experiences of illness are infinitely more different than we can imagine. With Will2Love, do you see differences in how people of different sexual orientations and gender identities experience their breast cancer?
LGBTQ patients very commonly report experiences with rude and homophobic health professionals. Many simply conceal their sexual orientation to avoid the hassle, which can compromise trust and good medical care. We need a lot more research on how sexual orientation and identity affect coping with cancer. Some small studies in the lesbian community suggest few differences in sexual outcomes from groups of heterosexual women. Many lesbian breast cancer survivors believe their partners to be more empathetic and supportive than a man would be. This week there was an excellent piece in the New York Times about a trans man who was diagnosed with breast cancer at 27 and is struggling with concerns about continuing testosterone therapy and whether to have an oophorectomy. His account highlights how little we know.
Contrary to what many believe, men and other penis-havers do get breast cancer. Do they face special issues that those with vaginas do not?
The main complaint unique to men with breast cancer is feeling there is not a special place for them, and having trouble fitting into clinics designed for women with breast cancer. There are some special advocacy groups for male breast cancer and, with the internet, it is easier to find information and support. It also appears that a large minority of men who take tamoxifen as part of their treatment experience problems with their sexual function.
What do you see as the biggest issue related to sex and quality of life for breast cancer patients in particular?
I think the biggest sexuality issue is genitourinary atrophy—better known as vaginal shrinkage and dryness, and consequently, pain during sexual caressing and intercourse. For younger women, these symptoms come when chemotherapy damages the ovaries causing menopause at a much younger age than normal. Some women resume periods for a while, and may also have fewer symptoms, but will still be at risk for an early menopause before the average age of 51. Women at high genetic risk who have prophylactic removal of their ovaries also experience these problems unless they take replacement estrogen (which may be a safe option until age 50 if they also have had both breasts removed). Women who have pelvic radiation therapy (for example if they also had ovarian cancer) have even more severe problems with vaginal size, dryness, and pain. Unfortunately, taking aromatase inhibitors causes all of these problems, often tipping a postmenopausal woman who was able to enjoy sex without pain (maybe using a little bit of lubricant) into a state of total inability to have intercourse. Many women who notice a loss of desire for sex are reacting to the fact that having sex hurts!
What are some of your favorite resources for breast cancer patients?
Will2Love! Honestly, I created Will2Love because at least for sexuality, I thought existing internet and book resources were really inadequate—superficial, repetitive, limited just to personal stories rather than giving practical advice, and often wrong! I also think our programs do a better job of addressing the emotional aspects of infertility than anything else out there. However, I think that support groups and advocacy organizations are extremely helpful to women. For breast cancer, there are many specialty groups – for example for women diagnosed during pregnancy, women considering fertility preservation, women of color, gay/bisexual women, men with breast cancer, etc. It can be very helpful to discuss questions and concerns with someone similar to you. Large groups like
Large groups like breastcancer.com, Living Beyond Breast Cancer, and the American Cancer Society provide lots of high-quality, up-to-date information on all aspects of breast cancer. The Cancer Support Community and Cancer Care are two of my favorites because they provide free or low-cost counseling and support for cancer patients, online, by phone, or in person.
What are some steps that breast cancer patients and survivors can take in order to take back their sex lives?
First of all, start on your own, without the anxiety of worrying about pleasing a partner. Find ways to view your body positively, and to get pleasurable feelings. If you do not have religious objections, try self-pleasuring with hands or vibrator, and read some erotic stories. Once you see that you can have sexual feelings, teach a partner how to give you pleasure, despite the changes in your body. Try not to buy into our cultural expectations of sex as a performance, with “foreplay” as the first act and “intercourse” as the finale. Instead, work on sex as sharing of physical pleasure, emotional intimacy, and erotic fantasy. If you are not in a relationship, work up to meeting new people. Try online flirting or role-play with a friend on how you would tell someone new about your cancer history. If you have a major problem with sexual pain or low desire, find a gynecologist or sex therapist (or both) who can suggest
Once you see that you can have sexual feelings, teach a partner how to give you pleasure, despite the changes in your body. Try not to buy into our cultural expectations of sex as a performance, with “foreplay” as the first act and “intercourse” as the finale. Instead, work on sex as sharing of physical pleasure, emotional intimacy, and erotic fantasy. If you are not in a relationship, work up to meeting new people. Try online flirting or role-play with a friend on how you would tell someone new about your cancer history. If you have a major problem with sexual pain or low desire, find a gynecologist or sex therapist (or both) who can suggest
If you have a major problem with sexual pain or low desire, find a gynecologist or sex therapist (or both) who can suggest ways to stretch and lubricate your vagina and prevent vulvar irritation. Start with nonhormonal options, but if they do not help enough, consider the risks and benefits of using medications like ospemifene or low-dose forms of vaginal estrogen. Keep your oncologist in the loop, but do not be surprised if your gynecologist is less concerned than your oncologists about the risks of any type of estrogen treatment.
Make sure to check out Will2Love for more information on the amazing work they’re doing for all types of cancer.
Last week, we talked a little bit about the awesomeness that is lube. This week, we’re talking types of lube.
These lubricants can be pretty fun, but also pretty messy. Some kinds you might know are vaseline, mineral/baby/coconut oil, and lotions. Perhaps the biggest pro to these lubes is that they are long lasting and can be really great for people who have extreme genital dryness.
The biggest downsides:
They can break down latex condoms and rubber toys! Make sure to utilize polyurethane condoms with these kinds of lube.
They can also make it easier to get infections. If you have any issues with your immune system, I’d stay away.
You feel pretty sticky or slick afterward.
These lubes . Some brands you may know include Überlube and Astroglide. One of the biggest perks here? These lubes are waterproof AKA they’re great for water-based sexy activities. These also tend to feel pretty silky, which many people enjoy on their own or with others.
Drawbacks? These stain pretty well and are not compatible with silicone sex toys.
Lubes in this category tend to be the easiest to utilize in a variety of situations because they’re compatible with all sex toys and generally can cause less irritation than the two above categories. Brands you may be familiar with here include KY and Liquid Silk. Clean-up is a breeze with these as all you need to do is rinse, unlike the two categories above which need soap to really leave.
The biggest downside? Some can contain glycerin or, if flavored, sugar which can promote yeast infections. These can also dry out pretty quickly, meaning that you may need to add water or a little spit to reactivate the lube.
These can come in liquids, gels, and creams, so don’t think it’s all liquid-only.
Some good things to know
If you have sensitive skin, it may be good to stay away from lubes that contain extras like parabens, glycerin, or various flavorings or scents. Glycerin can also cause an uptick in yeast infections – and can be commonly found in water-based lubes – so make sure to read the label.
Allergies and reactions can happen to just about any lube. It’s always important to know your allergies as well as the allergies of others you may be intimate with in order to be completely safe.
There are also hybrid lubes, combining the above categories. Make sure to read the label.
Your bum does not really have natural lubricant of its own, so ALWAYS use lube with bum fun.
The lubricant that is right for you will depend on the activity, how many people are involved, where this is taking place, allergies/irritations, and what your end result may be. If you are looking for a lube to aid with everyday vaginal dryness, for example, you may want a different lube than if you were involved in sex with a group with an armory of sex toys at their fingertips – which will be different than lube you may want to use for masturbation, mutual or on your own.
Please make sure to join us next week when we will be discussing one of the best lubes out there. You will have a chance to enter to win a bottle!
Many of the resources you’ll find on our Resources page actually come from arthritis-related organizations and writers. There’s a good reason for that.
Both Mariah and I deal with types of arthritis. We began writing on our personal sites about our lives with arthritis and how it affects everything from bathrooming to sex. We are incredibly lucky to travel in many of the same illness circles, leading us to be able to see each other a few times a year in a world where we’re lucky to see our siblings that much in person. We even presented at the Juvenile Arthritis Conference for the Arthritis Foundation to discuss relationships and sex with the 18+ young adult crowd this year! (Looking for the resource sheet we used? CLICK HERE!)
World Arthritis Day is a day to raise awareness of all things arthritis, from our medications to how it affects our lives to more.
Did you know that ‘arthritis‘ is an umbrella term? Over 120 diseases that have arthritis (inflammation and/or stiffness in the joints) as a symptom. These can include things like degenerative diseases of the spine, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Crohn’s Disease, and more.
While we may more commonly imagine osteoarthritis when someone says ‘arthritis,’ infants can even be stricken by forms of arthritis. Types of Juvenile Arthritis affect over 300,000 children in the United States and even more worldwide.
Some types of arthritis have been shown to have genetic links or to be hereditary like Ankylosing Spondylitis. Others, like Fibromyalgia, have been shown to have ties to trauma and injury. An interesting study examined the rates of Fibro in those who survived the Holocaust and their peers, finding that those who went through the traumas of the Holocaust had far higher rates of Fibro.
If you deal with one or more types of arthritis, please know that we are here for you.
Today is National Coming Out Day.
In our heteronormative society, the expectation is that we are all straight until we feel comfortable asserting that we are not. The trick with this is that sexuality doesn’t fit into labels. It’s more of a spectrum.
Personally, I used to consider myself bisexual, meaning that I was attracted to both males and females. As I grew and changed, I began to identify more with pansexuality. Pansexuality is very similar to bisexuality but, for me, leaves room for attraction to those who don’t fit into the binary gender system. That took me being exposed to more non-binary people and recognizing my attraction to them.
Again, in our society, it is assumed that we all fit into the gender assigned to us at birth. Like sexual orientation, this can change throughout our lives.
I have always been a tomboy. When I was 12, my uncle left for military service and I would wear some of this more manly clothes from time to time while he was gone – suits, etc. Aside from my gigantic chest, I made a decent looking dude.
It wasn’t until recently, though, that a conversation with another sex educator helped to highlight what I somehow had always known – I am gender fluid more than I am one specific binary identity.
It isn’t always safe to ‘come out’ to others. Whether or not you’re able to do so, please know that you are loved for exactly who you are.