12.15.12 Sexuality

The Benefits of Sex: Maintaining Your Relationship Through an Illness

The Benefits of Sex: Maintaining Your Relationship Through an Illness

BY Karla Wellington

Despite what some may consider my shortcomings, I have always felt content with the hand I’ve been dealt. When I look in the mirror on a good day, I see a confident, sexy woman. Yet in spite of this, when the occasional zit would appear overnight, it meant creative maneuvering depending on the spot; I would either carry on a conversation in profile, if the culprit was center stage, or hide altogether from any romantic endeavors. Back in the day, my insecurities would make me question whether I could keep a suitor interested when I was pleasantly plump from the winter hibernation, or my complexion was lacking that ‘J Lo glow.’ What has now become apparent is that the image I had of myself was singular, and had nothing to do with the unforgiving reality that life sometimes bestows on us.

I met my husband through mutual friends. It was a whirlwind, and that old cliché of knowing when you found ‘the one’ was true in our love story. The weekends we shared together became a passionate exploration of our bodies – to the annoyance I’m sure, of the people in the apartment next door. It was the first time where I felt that I could really let my guard down sexually and emotionally. Okay, so I did get up a few times earlier than he did to strategically place bronzer on my face and to try to wrestle with my wild, unruly hair. Hair, that even on a good day looks like a bird’s nest when I wake up. He caught me slipping out of bed one morning and wrapped me in his arms and told me I looked beautiful as I was. The jig was up, no more secret primping, yeah he was the one.

Our foundation and perspective about life, love, family and marriage were in sync. I went quickly from the stage of boasting to my girlfriends about my adventures with my boyfriend, to not sharing too many intimate tidbits. Our relationship had become more significant, and the code of conduct suggests you can’t openly discuss your sexual escapades over brunch if it’s a serious relationship – which is a shame because I had some really acrobatic and creative stories to share – Haagen Dazs and chocolate often made guest appearances.

Three years ago in the spring we got married and the passion remained solid, despite the transitions that we were experiencing in merging our kids, me moving out of the city and into the suburbs and the everyday chores. I however, had never felt more joyous, fit. Then the sky fell in – in the fall of that same year I was diagnosed with breast cancer and went through surgery, intensive radiation, chemotherapy and hormone treatment. However, this is not a story about cancer, ultimately my diagnosis was the landscape for my self-discovery and the awakening of our profound sexual intimacy and my self acceptance.

Fast forward a few months after my diagnosis and I was bald, tired all the time, filled with anxiety, and the steroids made me very swollen. I never looked worse. I felt like my body had betrayed me by having this vile thing growing inside me. I definitely didn’t feel sexy or sexual. Spending our first wedding anniversary in the hospital getting chemo is not an aphrodisiac, trust me.

But a conversation that my husband had with his doctor regarding the healing and relaxing benefits of sex (I might just be gullible and he made the whole thing up), encouraged us to have a discussion about sustaining our sex life through this time when my body would be pushed to the limit. The theory was that sexual activity would provide it a sense of relief, pleasure and joy. The idea that I would want to make love during this crucial time seemed for lack of a better word, frivolous. It made sense in concept but my mind was cluttered with so much confusion and fear I couldn’t imagine how I would succumb to any form of arousal, let alone feel sensual or come across as seductive to my husband! But could it be that when we feel our worst, we get the most benefits of stripping down and simply enjoying our bodies?

Well, my husband was determined to light the flame and I was glad he did. Oddly enough, the trauma I was feeling going through treatment had made my body more susceptible to achieving incredible pleasure, and for those very precious moments it was the only time I felt like me. One thing that I’m confident of, is maintaining an active sex life during those times helped me heal.

As I originally headed into treatment my thoughts included: I’m no longer sexy; I’m no longer beautiful,and I’m now an ugly science experiment. How will my husband react? Little did I know that despite the obvious physical trauma of going through chemo, what would immerse in the process was a clear look at what made me, ME. No longer hiding behind my wild curly mane, makeup and a sexy array of attire, I greeted myself in the rawest state which brought incredible insight to the core of my being. Dare I say I liked what I saw, not in the mirror, but in my heart and my soul. I was strong, I was courageous, and I wasn’t sexually dormant. In fact as things progressed, I was often the one who initiated our sexual encounters, which gave me back a sense of empowerment. The focus became pure physical pleasure, joy and an intense connection with my husband. An escape from pain and the reality of the situation, it made me forget. I was bald, fat, but strangely I had never felt more damn beautiful.

Could it be that my hair, manicured nails and fashionable outfits wasn’t what made me attractive? I must admit, I almost felt annoyed at times when my husband would look at me during my treatment the same way he did when I physically thought I was on my ‘A’ game. How could he possibly look at me with desire? I realized then that what he saw in me was more profound than what I saw in myself. And so the self discovery began.

As the treatment continued and I got back into the semblance of my routine and meeting up with my friends for coffee and gossip, I remember listening guiltily as they described how their relationships were becoming stale, due to kids, stress about money, jobs, etc. and how sex or even intimacy…a simple kiss for crying out loud! – had become alien to them, while here I was in the midst of chemo, making passionate love several times a week. Dare I tell them? But then I thought if I could be experiencing this much pleasure with all that is going on with my challenges, perhaps sharing my experiences could be a catalyst to help them to transcend their challenges. And so I did. The idea that I could feel sexy, beautiful and seductive at this point in time left my friends awe-struck and me genuinely aware that I was on the right track.

I am a wife-mother-fashion-food-music & culture enthusiast, blogger, freelance remote corporate associate & wardrobe coiffure. I have survived breast cancer, breakups, fashion mishaps and eyelash extensions. I am a big believer that DNA doesn't make you a family. Our family is comprised of a myriad of characters that have the commonalities of love-loyalty-commitment and presence. Life has given me a million reasons to cry, and many more to laugh. Follow me on my recently launched blog, City Girl Seeking Culture in the Burbs, where I share stories highlighting my endless search for all that is inspiring in art, theater, music and fashion in the 'burbs. You can also follow me on Twitter @KWellington.

Comments

  • Beautiful Karlita, thank you for sharing! So inspiring to read, especially on this day where I am not feeling confident about my looks it puts everything into perspective!

    • Karla Wellington

      Thank you for reading my piece Soraya and your encouraging message.

  • Great article, karlita. Keep up the good work! Love you, chica!

    • Karla Wellington

      Thank you Nicole. xo

  • So wonderfully written Karla! Thank you for being so candid about a very private but important subject. As a chemo nurse, hearing this perspective, helps me counsel my patients on a topic that hasn’t been exposed enough! Well done girl!

    • Karla Wellington

      Thank you Jen for your kind words and for doing the work that you do.

  • Bruce

    I am a man and after reading your article I was inspired.

    I am a new fan, thank you Karla!

  • Anabel Gonzalez

    wow this is the best thing i have read all day.. you have such a great relationship, im so happy for you

    • Karla Wellington

      Thank you Anabel for your positive feedback.

  • Rose

    Can we have a follow up “How To”? I have a chronic illness and feel tired and achy (and fat) all the time. How do you psych yourself up to even begin to be passionate? I have a loving husband who is growing impatient with all my “not tonight honey” procrastinating!

    • karla wellington

      Hi Rose, it’s a very complicated and challenging time when facing a chronic illness, having a loving husband is advantage. I also felt fat, I was bald, bloated and had all kinds of crazy side effects from the chemo it was difficult to look in the mirror at times but the love I would see in my husband’s eyes for me pulled me in and I let go of all the obvious physical challenges and insecurities and allowed myself to experience some joy and it got easier as time went on. I will discussing some new things in the upcoming article and I will definitely follow up in the near future as it is a subject that is profound, complex and close to my heart. Thank you for sharing Rose and happy loving. 🙂

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