Two pioneering artists and former cancer patients have formed a partnership with Sh! Women’s’ Erotic Emporium to launch the UK’s first online sex shop, designed by and for people living with and beyond cancer.
The selection of products and sexual aids have been specifically curated to be an answer to the specific sexual challenges relating to cancer and all are available from the online shop sexwithcancer.com as of this week.
Sex with Cancer is more than just an online shop, it is an artwork and a public campaign that explores how people living with and beyond cancer can take agency over their own health and wellbeing. It offers practical solutions, peer-led advice and a specially curated selection of products responding to the top 25 questions about sex, pleasure and intimacy asked by people with experience of cancer. “What if cancer patients got together to design their own sex shop?” Sex with Cancer has been created by artists, friends and former cancer patients Brian Lobel and Joon-Lynn Goh in collaboration with a Steering Group of patient advocates, specialist doctors and nurses, psychosexual therapists, pleasure activists and sex toy experts.
Over the last 18 months, the team collected over 200 questions about sex that people living with and beyond cancer most wanted to ask. The top 25 questions were then put to the Sex with Cancer Steering Group for responses from a range of expert perspectives. Questions range from how to communicate with a partner, and how to build back confidence with a changed body, to what to write on your Tinder profile.
And it is these questions that guided the choice of products and aids, as well as the advice element of the website. Why is this needed? Cancer, and the treatments for cancer, often have serious effects on a person’s sex life in direct and indirect ways. 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, erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness, 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.
Sex with Cancer has been created in response to the difficulties many people encounter when opening up dialogue about these issues with their medical teams. Many people feel uncomfortable talking about sex, while many medical professionals lack the confidence and training to talk about sexual pleasure, intimacy and relationships. Then, there’s a dominant national cancer dialogue promoting ‘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. All this leads to overly-medicalised information, scared patients, nervous doctors, and lots of missed opportunities for good sex and meaningful intimacy.
Sex with Cancer also features brand new commissioned artworks that aim to open up the conversation around illness, intimacy and agency. The website features an online performance, a visual artwork, a documentary film, a zine and an essay.
About the founding executives…
Brian Lobel is an artist who has been working in cancer care and patient advocacy since 2003, after a diagnosis of testicular cancer when he was 20 years old. Brian performs and writes creatively and academically on the subject of cancer. His first play on the subject, BALL & Other Funny Stories About Cancer – seen by tens of thousands of people, including medical students, doctors, nurses and patient groups – looked candidly at masculinity, sexuality, and the pressures to be ‘inspiring’, ‘normal’ and an ideal ‘survivor’. Brian works extensively with medical research teams focused on psychosocial care.
Joon-Lynn Goh is a cultural organiser and artist, working across culture, migrant movements and community economies. Joon-Lynn’s practice pays attention to imagining and building community infrastructure including skills, networks and assets that enable communities to self-determine and resource their futures. Projects include an artist-led hotel that circulates profits back into Blackpool’s creative communities; a political education workbook for South/East/Asian diasporic organisers across Europe; and a citizen-led campaign and refugee resettlement programme with Bristol City Council. Joon-Lynn underwent breast cancer treatment in 2018, and is a co-founder of Sex with Cancer. She has authored an essay using Sex with Cancer as a case study to explore artist-led business as a practice of world-building.