Anne: the badass, bi, sex encyclopedia cancer survivor

Name: Anne (changed)
Age: 39
From: Bay Area, CA
Job: Software Developer and Volunteer at San Francisco Sex Information

Anne is a walking encyclopedia of sex information after working at a sex info hotline for years. She’s also a former “sex fiend” who experienced a dramatic shift in her libido after she got breast cancer.

You know the girlfriend who everyone runs to with their sex questions? That’s Anne. She exudes comfort and reliability — a hundred times more than Web MD. She’s also bisexual, so she has experience with male and female bodies.

Maybe that’s why (or because) she’s been a sex information hotline volunteer with the San Francisco Sex Information nonprofit for years. It’s a hotline that people all over the country call with their burning, unanswered questions.

Anne has heard some unusual questions, but most are striking in their are simplicity — like, “What’s an orgasm?” Anne has fielded calls from women of all ages — in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s — who tell her they’ve never had one.

Sidetone: Any woman should be free to not orgasm if she wants (although I think most people wouldn’t want to rule them out forever). But women deserve a choice — the kind of choice that could only be made by someone who has had a few.

Anne told me that abstinence-focused sex education is partly to blame for all the sexual ignorance out there.

“Abstinence -only sex education says ‘You’ll know what to do when you get there.’ But that’s not how things work,” she told me.

Makes sense. It’s easy enough to know how to put a P in a V and have heterosexual sex (sort of)… But making sex pleasurable for both people? That usually takes some information, enthusiasm and practice.

But that’s not the most common source of people’s questions either. What people want to know the most, Anne said is the following assurance: What they want is OK. There’s nothing wrong with them. And there’s an endless line of people willing to pick up the phone and pose their most intimate, nagging question to a perfect stranger just to hear that.

“The majority of the people who call us aren’t kids, they’re adults who want know that what they’re doing or what they want to do is normal,” she said.
“Most of the people call because had some kind of ‘normal’ life, then something happened, things became different and they need to talk about it. Like the man who’s been married for 40 years and his wife just died, and now he’s ready to say that he wants to have sex with men.”

All this to say, sex is a big part of Anne’s life. It always has been.

But the nature of sex changed for Anne in September 2013, when she was diagnosed with a very invasive type of breast cancer.

I imagine that cancer always feels like a cruel joke. But Anne was 37, trying to get pregnant with her husband and having a lot of great sex (with him and others — she and her husband are polyamorous). So she was really taking advantage of having estrogen-producing ovaries and breasts. Things were pretty fun.

But then came the cancer, which was the type that actually feeds off estrogen and progesterone. So the doctors put Anne on hormone suppressants right away (she’s still taking them). Anne went from having a normal level of those hormones in her body, to almost none.

That was the beginning of Anne transitioning (almost overnight) from a self-identified “sex fiend” to a post-menopausal woman.

Under normal circumstances, menopause usually begins around the age of 51. But the whole process of going from a fertile woman to a post-menopausal one can take four to ten years. Thanks to a lot of comedy sketches I already knew about some of the symptoms, such as mood changes and hot flashes. But Anne filled in a lot of other details that I didn’t know about, like vaginal dryness and a thinning of the skin down there (and everywhere else), which I’ll go into soon.

During her treatment, Anne’s body wasn’t just going through hyper-drive menopause, it was also being pummeled with 28 weeks of heavy-duty chemotherapy. Harrowing to say the least.

Anne showed me a photograph of her breast from that time. It was hard for both of us to look at. Her right breast — once an erogenous, sensual place on her body — was red and bulbous. It was so irritated that it looked like she had had a really overenthusiastic boob job. She ended up having the breast removed and reconstructed. But she tells me that she keeps her bra on during sex, because if she thinks about it during that time, it can bring her back to that place of illness and pain and derail her pleasure.

Suffice to say, getting all down and dirty was not high on Anne’s priorities while she was being treated for cancer. But the treatment beat the cancer into submission after five and a half draining months of doctor’s office visits and hospitals, tubes and wires and chemical cocktails. Eventually, she came out on the other side.

When she emerged from her recovery, Anne was ready to have sex again. But things were different.

Getting turned on for instance. That had changed.

“Before the cancer it was like my turn-on began in my body with it saying ‘I want to get fucked right now.’ After the cancer, that didn’t happen. Now it’s my brain that triggers things when I want to have sex. Like I’ll see my husband in the morning and think how nice he looks dressed in his new shirt and that thought will trigger my desire. Before it was body-driven.”

Now that her body wasn’t yelling at her to fuck! all time, Anne was having way less sex. She’s polyamorous and still went to sex parties, but became more like the “den mother” than the DTF sex nymph.

There was an upside, though, too.

“Now I have more confidence to do whatever the hell I feel like sexually.” Before, she said, the drive to have sex made her less picky sometimes. She doesn’t need sex in the same way she needed it before. So she sticks to her original criteria “I don’t fuck dumb people” and is extra picky. She chooses people who she trusts and knows she’ll have a good experience with.

“I’m definitely having less quantity and more quality,” she said.

The shift in her desire wasn’t just physical. It also changed the way Anne saw herself.

“I’d be lying if I said sexual desire didn’t have something to do with my confidence,” she said. “At a young age I realized that having sexual tension was one way to make people like you.”

And, besides that, Anne’s body worked differently than before.

Side note: As a person with a vagina, I am amazed and a little embarrassed that I didn’t know all the ins and outs of what happens to a woman’s body during menopause. One of the changes we spoke about was the thinning of the skin on the entire body, including the vagina.

“People kept asking me if I had lost weight after my treatment,” Anne told me, “I didn’t though. It was because the skin on my face had thinned so much.”

Skin is skin, so the thinning that happened on Anne’s face also happened on her pussy. Her labia changed dramatically.

She realized just how significant the change was the first time she had post-treatment sex. She and a woman lover were banging, and it wasn’t crazy rough or anything.  In fact Anne thought they were being pretty careful.

But at some point in the process, Anne realized they had hurt her. When she looked to see what was up, she saw they had actually torn her vaginal wall — something she’d never even considered could happen before. Holy shit.

Anne has always had great sex with her husband. In fact, part of the reason why she fell in love with him was that he was a champ at what she calls, “breaking her brain” with amazing orgasms. Sex is different for her now, but it can still be great, even if it happens on a day where she isn’t feeling that turned on. In contrast to the hey-baby-naughty-hot kind of sex from before, sex now can actually feel like something that’s just good for her body — kind of like a lady-bits spa treatment.

Here’s why:
Sometimes the dramatic decrease in vaginal lubrication that used to be produced by her body makes the sides of Anne’s vagina stick together. When that happens, it can be super painful to try to push a penis inside for P-in-V sex. But if her partner covers the penis in lube, then sort of edges it in, little by little, the walls will get unstuck and she’ll get lubed up. Then, of course, comes the pleasure of sex with her awesome partner and the release of the orgasm. To top that off, all the lubrication and increased blood flow down there leaves her vagina feeling super happy and moisturized — a vaginal spa treatment if you will.

One of the things that made Anne so amazing is that she wasn’t pining for the way things used to be in her sex life. I think there’s a ton of wisdom there. Women’s bodies are different every freaking day as they change with the cycles of the moon. Anne went through an even more dramatic shift recently, but she saw the ups and downs in each. Then: a lot of pretty darn good sex. Now: Less sex, most if it great, or at least with great people. She said even though the quality is better now, there’s nothing she would go back and tell her younger self — she’s damn happy for all the experiences she had.

Also by having sex with women, Anne got to see how different female bodies worked. And that gave her experience with the myriad of ways women can experience pleasure. She didn’t tell me this, but I imagine it made it easier to move with the changes rather than try to change them. As wise women know, you can fight the changes, the moods, the ebb and flow of sexual feelings, but it’s wiser to roll with them and feel the feels.

For Anne, life and sex are absolutely still going on. And there was even a hidden benefit to losing her hair from chemo. Now, Anne, who’s “always been a little too gay for the men and a little too straight for the women” is getting a lot of compliments from ladies on her short haircut.

I’m taking notes.

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