Do you like dating? Or does it scare the pants off you. My friend Charlie Nox is an excellent dating coach. Not only is she great at getting people to find the fun in what can often be difficult and intimidating process, but she can totally think outside the box in many, many ways. Recently diagnosed with cancer, Charlie is forging ahead focusing on dating and illness.
Tell me about your latest venture, dating with cancer. Can you let us know about your SXSW panel and your approach?
I’ve been a dating coach for the last two years. I love working with all kinds of people to help them create a dating and sex life that makes them really happy. Honestly, it’s my dream job. Every day I get the help the geeky wonderful person who you might find as the protagonist in a rom com get with the hot chick or dude that we all hope they end up with.
Then on May 25, 2012, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. A diagnosis like that always shakes up your life. I knew that I wanted to keep doing what I love – helping people feel sexy and confident, but I also knew that cancer was going to be at the forefront of my brain for a while, so it made since to look for a way for them to overlap.
Then, you know, selfishly – I’m single and dating and having cancer changed all that for me too. I refuse to let anything keep me from having a super hot sex life, and I knew I couldn’t be the only one struggling to find that balance. I think a lot of this project was born from my stubbornness and anger, both at having cancer and the sudden experience that I was supposed to be a virginal, angelic cancer patient instead of a raunchy, saucy, dirty, kinky, sex pot, which is who I really am. When I get knocked down by life I tend to get very determined. In some ways this project is my Fuck You to cancer, and to our cultural conceptions of sex and illness, and to my own internal critic.
And then I started doing research and I was shocked. Far from being a niche issue, this is a really all pervasive topic. The CDC reports that 48% of adults in the US are currently living with a chronic illness. Dating is hard enough when you’re healthy, but with an illness it can seem hopeless. Which really sucks because touch and orgasms are really good for your immune system and actually for all the other systems in your body, too. So the people who would benefit the most from touch and orgasms are getting it least. 75% of marriages involving a chronically ill spouse end in divorce. This means having a chronic illness increases your chances of being single and decreases your chances of getting laid, which is one thing that might make a huge difference.
So this project has a couple parts to it. One of them is a proposal for a presentation for SXSWi next year. The panel is titled Stop Staring at My Boobs, My Tumor is Down Here. Public voting for the panel is open until August 31, 2012 at http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/53http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/53.
Speaking at SXSW is a big deal because it lets me reach a lot more people and help bring this topic to the foreground.
The other project I’m working on is a book about dating with chronic illnesses. I’m interviewing people who have dated wit chronic illnesses right now. Their stories are so amazing. People are opening up about sex, body image, self esteem, rejection and so much more I feel like I am so blessed to have the opportunity to hear them all and learn from these incredible people. I’m still interviewing people, so if you are interested, email me at email@example.com.
After I finish the book I’ll be taking the lessons I gather from these interviews and developing workshops for people on how to date with a chronic illness. Half the adults in this country have a chronic illness, and no other dating coaches are really delving into the nuts and bolts of seduction with illness. I think it’s time we do that.
What’s surprised you in your travels and discussions with people about sex, sexuality and illness?
First I’m surprised how little we are talking about this as a culture. When your body stops working the way it’s supposed to, that affects everything in your life. But it doesn’t kill your sexuality. We think of people with illnesses as asexual but that is so far from true. We need to start dealing with the fact that we are sexual creatures. Period. That doesn’t mean your libido doesn’t fluctuate, it does, but being sick doesn’t make us not sexual.
One of the most surprising things was an insight from Barbara Musser of Sexy After Cancer. She is interviewing doctors about the half life of chemo drugs. It’s possible that having unprotected oral sex with someone on chemo could mean you’re getting a dose of chemo yourself. And radiation is also transferable. Doctors are not educating single patients about how to keep themselves AND their partners safe while on these treatments. People who like casual sex, are poly, into BDSM and other kinks are being completely ignored in the conversation about body care and illness. But given the huge number of people with chronic illnesses involving medication and side effects, etc I almost feel like this is a public health issue.
You do a lot of dating coaching. Are there fundamentals in common?
Absolutely. People often ask me what’s my one piece of advice that I give to everyone. For a long time I would say “well it depends what you are looking for. The advice i would give someone looking to get married is different than someone who wants a 3 some every weekend So for example, what do you want?” almost every single time, the person I was talking to would say “I don’t know.” so that’s the first thing, if you don’t know what you want, you can’t have it. Most people have a vague notion that they want to be happier, sexier, more confident or that they want a girlfriend or more dates, etc but we aren’t clear really what we mean by those things, or what that would look like. By the way this is true for every area of life, not just sex and dating. When I’m not specific about what I want in bed, with money, with fitness, etc then I’m sort of constantly at a lull and unsatisfied.
The other universal thing is that everyone feels like there is some reason they are unwantable. Maybe it’s cancer, maybe it’s being inexperienced or too experienced or being divorced, a parent, bald, fat, hairy, shy… But what we really want is for someone to like us (whether for a night or a lifetime) for who we really are. And the thing that we like in other people is when they show us their soft underbelly and they own their weaknesses. Because if they are ok being less than perfect, then we can be less than perfect when we are with them, too. And that is seriously the sexiest thing.
Tell me about vulnerability and outness as it applies to health and wellness? What stigma (or not) have you come across?
Oh man. Being out and dating as a cancer patient is a trip. I’m generally very comfortable being vulnerable with people, so I’ve really pushed myself during the last few months to see if I can find all the right and wrong ways to date with cancer. I was talking to one guy on a dating site and he asked to connect on facebook. I sent him a friend request and then wrote him and told him I had cancer because he was going to see that on my wall anyway. He never wrote back and never responded to the friend request. That seems immature and frankly rude to me, but I’d rather know now than after dating for a while that he bails when shit gets real. I’ve been dating some other people though who are amazing. Sweet, sensitive, but still willing to push me up against a wall and fuck me hard. They are gentle when I need it but don’t treat me like a fragile flower. That’s awesome.
One thing that surprised me about myself is actually the degree to which I’m different in my body. Specifically I’m very aware of any touching or kissing on my neck because I have a tumor in my throat. I’ve had to communicate a lot with my lovers about how we can include even my cancer in our sex because my neck is one of my most erotic regions on my body, but someone making out with a tumor doesn’t make me feel sexy. That is awkward and hard and weird, but I feel lucky to have partners that will go there with me and not get all freaked out.
What advice would you give someone struggling to find their way in relationships while managing illness?
I feel like I’m still figuring so much of this out for myself. Whatever you were dealing with before illness is just going to be magnified now. And communication is just so important. I was really delighted to discover that after talking about my insecurity around kisses on my neck, that having a lover conciously and purposely kiss the tumor was so intimate and actually kind of erotic. Being cared for like that is worth the difficult conversation.
I would also remind people that you are not broken, less than, or incomplete. You are still a whole person. You are perfect how you are and completely loveable, desireable, wantable, sexy, delicious, pleasant and wonderful. If you aren’t really in touch with that for yourself (whether or not you have a disease) then you should really stop everything and get to work! Our bodies don’t define who we are. We define who we are. I’ve had mind blowing sex with all kinds of bodies, and I’m not the only one. No matter who you are or what you think about yourself, there are a lot of people out there who are eager to fuck you. A whole lot of people. Pinky swear.
The other thing is that your illness can actually make you MORE sexy. I know this is counterintuitive, but this is one of the themes that’s showing up in my interviews. I spoke with a guy who said that before luekemia he never got approached by women. After his diagnosis, his whole attitude changed. He didn’t care as much how women viewed him, and didn’t base his self worth on what other people thought. That inner strength was so apparent, and so sexy that more than once he’s had models walk up to him in bars and give him their phone numbers. Of course no one wants to be sick, but you don’t have to look at illness and dating as some sort of obstacle to over come. In many ways, cancer can be your best wingman.
More about Charlie!
From her early middle school days giving kissing lessons to D&D geeks behind the tree at school, Charlie Nox has always wanted to see the nice guys (and gals) win. Now she’s a professional dating coach, leading workshops, blogging and coaching clients one-on-one. She believes anyone (really anyone!) can have the sex life of their dreams. Charlie is currently writing a book about dating with cancer and other chronic illnesses, inspired by her recent thyroid cancer diagnosis. For more articles, and lots more about Charlie, find her at Charlie Nox, and on facebook and twitter.
–Looking for one-on-one coaching on relationships, sexuality, life passages, or need support with personal or career goals? Seeking seeking a facilitator for your group or team to help promote healthy group dynamics and effective communication? Contact me here!