Nothing puts the kibosh on a one-night stand like announcing that sex is off-limits. It’s also a pretty serious roadblock to the establishment of a loving relationship, believes Laura Brashier, which is why she’s launched 2date4love, a dating website for men and women who want to fall in love but don’t want to, or can’t have actual intercourse.
There are quite a few of them out there in cyberspace: since the site went live Aug. 1, 10,000 people have visited and more than 2,000 have signed up. (Those who join by Sept. 20 receive a free month of membership, which costs about $30, depending on the length of the subscription.)
Brashier, 50, a hairdresser from southern California, is targeting cancer survivors like herself who may have experienced complications from chemotherapy or radiation that affect the ability to have intercourse, as well as people who cannot have sex for other reasons including paralysis, erectile dysfunction and birth defects.
In 1999, Brashier wrapped up treatment for Stage 4 cervical cancer. She found sex unbearably painful and the prospect of breaking that news to a potential partner so overwhelming that she quit dating.
As Brashier explains on 2date4love:
With the help of my doctors, I won my battle against cancer. My body, however, has never been the same. I am still the same passionate woman who loves life and thrives on excitement. I still have all the same sexual desires I had before cancer. As the cancer treatment took a toll on my body, I’m no longer able to function sexually the way I used to. This has proven to be an enormous challenge when it comes to dating — when the topic of intimacy is raised, I fear that once my partner knows my limitations, he may lose interest.
As if dating isn’t hard enough already, Brashier would obsess about how and when to tell a man — right away as a means of being up-front, or after he’d gotten to know her better and might be less apt to turn away? “It’s the only thing on your mind,” says Brashier. “Who’s going to sign up for that?”
Finding a love interest through the new site removes that anxiety. If you find someone you like, you never have to ‘fess up; they already know. “It takes it completely out of the equation,” she says.
But not everyone thinks Brashier is doing people in her situation a favor. “To say that because you can’t have penis-in-vagina or anal intercourse, and that that defines you as a sexual person, which seems to be the message she is giving, I find very sad,” says Leslie Schover, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and an expert in reproductive health after cancer. “It’s contrary to the message I try to give that your sexuality is a part of you even if they amputate your penis or take away your vagina.”
Schover’s also unconvinced of the merits of such sites as C is for Cupid, where cancer survivors who want to date each other can connect (the site is temporarily off-line while it’s being updated). “People are so nervous about going back out and dating that it may be a great way of finding someone who will be understanding and accepting, but limiting yourself to dating other cancer survivors is kind of limiting,” she says.
Lifetime risk of being diagnosed with cancer is estimated at 40%, but only a very few cancers may actually leave survivors unable to have intercourse; cervical cancer is among those. Women can work at relaxing their vaginal muscles and replacing moisture as ways to preserve intercourse, although that doesn’t work for everyone.
Others at risk for painful sex are premenopausal women who undergo chemo that destroys ovarian function and women with breast cancer who are treated with aromatase inhibitors, a class of drugs that exacerbates problems such as severe dryness that women might naturally experience at menopause.
Men who have erectile dysfunction can treat their condition with pills or invasive treatments including injections or prostheses. “It’s a matter of how much they’re willing to go through to restore firm erections,” says Schover.
Brashier, for her part, is quick to point out that no intercourse doesn’t mean no sex at all. Friends have questioned her about the business model, asking, “You can do other things, right?” To which Brashier responds: “Well, yeah!”
As for finding a mate herself, Brashier is a member of 2date4love, but has been so busy with the launch that she hasn’t been able to do any dating herself. In the meantime, interested suitors have resorted to tracking down her publicist, Annie Eddey. “My email is on the press release,” Eddey explains.