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Sex with Cancer co-founders Joon-Lynn Goh and Brian Lobel
Sex with Cancer co-founders Joon-Lynn Goh and Brian LobelPhotography Christa Holka

These artists have opened the UK’s first sex shop for people with cancer

Co-founded by Brian Lobel and Joon-Lynn Goh, Sex with Cancer answers the question: ‘What if cancer patients set up their own sex shop?’

Two artists and former cancer patients, Brian Lobel and Joon-Lynn Goh, have launched the UK’s first sex shop designed for people who have cancer, in partnership with the London-based Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium. As of October 7, the online Sex with Cancer store offers sex toys, information, and artworks that are specifically curated with current and former cancer patients in mind.

“Cancer, and the treatments for cancer, often have serious effects on a person’s sex life in direct and indirect ways,” the organisation explains, noting that surgeries can result in the removal of body parts or scarring, while chemotherapy and radiotherapy have a range of side-effects, from exhaustion and weight fluctuation, to erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness, and heightened infection risks.

To help people deal with these issues, and to open up a broader dialogue, Sex with Cancer has drawn on the expertise of a group of patient advocates, specialist doctors and nurses, psychosexual therapists, pleasure activists, and sex toy experts. 

“When I got diagnosed with breast cancer at the start of 2018, I turned to my friend and ex-cancer patient, Brian (Lobel),” co-founder Joon-Lynn Goh tells Dazed, discussing the origin of the sex shop. Brian had already been working in cancer care and patient advocacy since 2003, after a diagnosis of testicular cancer when he was 20 years old.

Joon-Lynn adds: “One day, Brian dropped a ‘What If’ idea that had a been brewing for a while — what if cancer patients set up their own sex shop? From that moment on, this question became a super appealing distraction that not only got me through a year of treatment, but has but has kept us talking and scheming for the last four years.”

“People are terrible at talking about cancer, almost as much as they’re bad at talking about sex,” Brian adds. “So the idea was to enter this relative-vacuum of space where people weren’t talking (or talking well), namely the sex and cancer space, and to fill it with lots of options, possibilities, resources, inspirations.”

“The shop needed to become a reality because we wanted to make sure that solvable problems in the world of cancer could start to be addressed, and the unsolvable ones have a space to be aired, listened to and witnessed.”

Alongside the products, aids, and practical advice on offer via Sex with Cancer, the shop provides a space for newly-commissioned artworks, including an online performance created by Brian Lobel, intended to help you get better at having difficult conversations. The site also hosts a documentary, Unexpired Pleasures, by Lehni Lamide Davies and Shona Hamilton, and Christopher Samuel’s project about male cancer, titled Swinging in the Wind.

“People understand a shop,” says Brian. “You have a problem, you buy a product to address the problem. Even if we’re not enthusiastic capitalists, we understand that logic. But we realise that not all problems that people are having related to cancer and sex/intimacy are solvable with products.” 

“These problems aren’t just about erectile dysfunction or vaginal dryness, but are, instead, about relationships, feelings about their bodies, grief, etc. And no product in the world, and no single therapy or conversation can address those bigger issues.”

As for the store itself, you might be wondering why it’s the first of its kind. Why hasn’t a sex shop for people with cancer been attempted in the UK before? “Imagine how bad people are at talking about sex, and then multiply that by how bad people are at talking about cancer, and you get your answer.”

“Information is confidence, and confidence is sexy,” Joon-Lynn adds, suggesting the possibilities of Sex with Cancer. “I hope people come away with a sense of community, knowledge, and a greater confidence to reclaim their bodies and relationships in their own terms.”