Being diagnosed with, receiving treatment for, and surviving cancer are all incredibly impactful experiences that affect all areas of a person’s life—including sex. Many people aren’t comfortable bringing up these two sensitive subjects in casual conversation, much less at the same time, but two cancer survivors are hoping to change attitudes by opening the UK’s first online sex shop that caters specifically to people living with and beyond cancer.
Brian Lobel, a writer and performer, is a survivor of testicular cancer, while Joon-Lynn Goh, who works in the fields of culture, community economies, and refugee settlement, underwent treatment for breast cancer in 2018. Together, they launched sexwithcancer.com.
“Cancer, and the treatments for cancer, often have serious effects on a person’s sex life in direct and indirect ways,” Lobel explains. “Surgeries can result in body parts being removed, or scars that can take time to get used to. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy can cause exhaustion, weight loss, weight gain, loss of interest in sex, and heightened infection risks. People with cancer are navigating lots of emotions, traumas, and priorities, all of which might make sex less desirable or feasible.”
To ensure that their initiative helps cancer patients and survivors through this tricky navigation in the best way possible, the duo partnered with the Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium to create a shop that can address the specific sexual challenges of cancer. To further inform the project, they also worked with a steering group of patient advocates, specialist medics, psychosexual therapies, pleasure activists, and sex-toy experts.
The result is an online shop with a range of appropriate sex-related products, as well as an advice section, artworks, performances, videos, and essays.
“The dominant national cancer dialogue promotes ‘getting back to normal,’ instead of ‘loving a body’s new normal,’ and there are also barriers to the promotion of sex toys, which are not medically tested, so cannot be formally recommended by doctors,” says Goh. “All this leads to overly medicalized information, scared patients, nervous doctors, and lots of missed opportunities for good sex and meaningful intimacy.”