CONFESSIONS OF A CANCER PATIENT
How a simple 2 minutes saved my sex during cancer treatments.
Sexuality, intimacy & relationships are one of the most common things to suffer during cancer diagnosis and treatments, and I won’t deny that it affected mine. Around never-ending appointments, the endless side-effects and symptoms from chemotherapy, multiple surgeries, radiotherapy and medications, as you would expect, I wasn’t exactly gagging for it. I felt like an inanimate object for the medical system to poke and prod, not someone with the capacity for pleasure. As a sexuality therapist, I value that intimacy is a contributor to quality of life, yet sometimes during treatments, connection seemed impossible.
But there is a way. A simple, fun way to connect and even be intimate during treatments, which I have used (before and after diagnosis) and highly recommend. I’m sure you’re saying to yourself, “sure Tess, easier said than done”, well….
I introduce to you, ‘The 2 minute game’. I am unsure who gets the credit for creating this wonderful game. The consent guru Betty Martin teaches the ‘3 minute game’ and I learned the ‘2 minute game’ through Curious Creatures workshops. Either way, this fun and accessible activity can connect you, excite you, comfort you and satisfy you. Yes, even during treatment.
Here’s the rules:
- Get a timer or an alarm in your phone, set it to 2 minutes.
- Pick who goes first, then that person asks for something they would like (for 2 minutes).
- If you all agree, start the timer and give the person whatever they asked for.
- When the timer goes off, completely stop what you’re doing.
- Then it’s the next persons turn to ask for something they would like for 2 minutes.
- If everyone is a congruent ‘yes’, start the timer and go.
- Once the timer goes off, again, stop what you’re doing.
- And repeat.
That’s it. Really, that is the game. So simple, yet so effective.
A common question when introducing the two-minute game in workshops is, “what happens if someone asks for something you don’t want to do?” Say “no-thank you” with a smile and discuss an alternative (such as touching the chest or back rather than genitals). It’s okay. Wait, it’s more than okay, it’s wonderful to say ‘no’. Saying what we don’t want is equally (maybe more) important as saying what we do.
Still not sure? Here’s some reasons why this game can be great;
Our genitals aren’t always up for being played with, whether it’s from surgery, radio, chemo, hormones or mental stressors. So, let’s throw away the oh-so-limiting idea that ‘sex’ MUST involve genitals and/or penetration. Our entire bodies are capable of pleasure. This game can show you, we are more than just our genitals and so is our sex!
Is climax difficult? It’s okay if your body doesn’t work the way it used to, or the way you want it to. Our bodies are complicated (even without a diagnosis), and an orgasm does not prove ‘good sex/touch’. There are countless other ways your body can enjoy pleasure. If we have only one goal in mind (orgasm), ironically, that one goal can be the biggest obstacle to achieving it.
This game can allow connection, even with mismatched libido. Asking to snuggle for 2 minutes or having a foot massage is perfect, if that’s what you want. Also, your 2 minutes doesn’t have to be about you being touched, it can be about the other person. Offer them touch, sensation or pleasure. It’s your 2 minutes, ask/offer what you are comfortable with! It can be wonderful to simply give, you don’t HAVE to receive.
Bodies impacted by treatment can change dramatically and unpredictably, be it sensation, arousal, pain, surgical sites etc. This is a great way to relearn how your body works or does not work (where those desensitised parts are, where it’s sore, where it’s pleasurable, how toys or lubes feel).
Worried about where things may lead to? Take ‘typical’ sex off the table for the entire game. You could have a ‘no genital contact rule’ or even leave your clothes on. Remove the pressure to perform or get aroused. Our bodies produce the pleasure hormone oxytocin, not only just from penetration type sex, but from activities like cuddling! This proves that touch is sex!
Fatigue and lethargy can be constant during treatment. However, you can still experience pleasure and not have to be overly active. Everything you ask for, or agree to participate in, can be low energy and within your limitations. You can do this game sitting, lying down or using cushions for support. Calm, soft, gentle experiences are sometimes the most delicious ones!
Eliminate your self-expectations or obligations to ‘perform’ or ‘do someone a favour’. Obligation & expectation are the enemy of arousal, feeling safe and relaxed is its catalyst. Get creative, enjoy yourselves without that pressure.
Feeling awkward? This game can be fun, full of laughter and still be intimate. Ask someone to play your foot like an Irish flute to an upbeat song for two minutes, or to tell you about their day through interpretive dance. Fun and laughter are also therapeutic and also very connecting.
You can receive or give what you want. Not because you feel like you should do it, but because you want to do it. The more specific you are, the better chance you have of getting what you want (And here come those pleasure hormones).
Maybe you’re dating again and are learning what your ‘new normal’ is and how your body works. This game is a great way to introduce someone else to your body and its pleasure! It’s also a great way to learn someone else’s body!
If you have no idea what you would like, but know you would like some form of touch? This game is perfect to start simple and slow, to see how you feel. What an opportunity to get that long sought after back scratch!
The two-minute game has many communication benefits and can act as a gentle ice breaker. With changed sexuality and changed intimacy (with or without illness), can come guilt and shame. Talking about sex is not easy, especially when things seem different. This game gently offers a way to help navigate those tricky feelings while also acknowledging the elephant in the room. While we’re at it, lets erase any feelings of ‘being selfish’ or ‘a taker’. Asking for your neck to be gently kissed for two minutes, or to be told why this person loves you for two minutes, is simply playing the game. It can seem difficult, but remember, you have to ask, it’s the rules! Through my work, I am always shocked at how many people tell me that they have never asked for what they want. Practice makes perfect and it does get easier.
Your ‘self-critic’ can also take a backseat. You know that brain-chatter we sometimes get in intimate situations: “Am I doing this right? Are they enjoying this?” Well, you’re giving someone what they asked for, and feel free to relax into it, because that timer is going to go off soon, so it doesn’t give anyone much time to get bored or disinterested!
I’m not claiming this will cure a relationship during diagnosis. But if you are experiencing treatment or watching a loved one go through it, and have no idea how to connect or where to start? Then, the two-minute game is a good option, one that is flexible and accessible to the people playing. It can provide a way to take that first step on a path that seems unwalkable.
Now go get that timer.
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