Sex After Breast Cancer

Published: OCTOBER 23, 2014
Cancer treatment can do a number on your body...and your confidence. Reclaim your sexuality with these tips.
Many women with breast cancer express that they feel a loss of sexual desire or fears about having sex after their diagnosis. Most medical professionals aren’t trained or comfortable discussing sex with their patients, and this leaves women with few options for addressing their concerns. A loss of sexual desire after surgery or treatment is not unusual; the search for answers is the challenging part.

How Does Breast Cancer Affect Sexual Desire?

The loss of one or both breasts can be extremely traumatic for a woman and is often one of the biggest factors in the loss of sexual desire for women with breast cancer. Many questions may arise after a mastectomy: Will my partner still want me, even without breasts, or with breasts that aren't real? Will he or she be turned off by my scars? Will I still feel like a woman without breasts? These kinds of thoughts play a significant role in a woman’s ability to feel sexy.

Breast Cancer and the Body

Breast cancer can affect a woman’s life, and her partner’s, in many ways. Here are some changes that those who are diagnosed can expect:
  • Scars or changes in breasts lead to a decline in sexy or confident feelings about oneself.
  • There can be physical pain or discomfort in the surgical site.
  • Abrupt menopause can occur due to medications, and brings on more severe menopausal side effects than a natural transition.
  • Hormonal changes affect one’s level of desire.
  • Medications like Tamoxifen, antidepressants and aromatase inhibiters have been associated with low sexual desire.
  • Fears about reoccurrence of illness can arise.
  • A partner who has become the caregiver during illness may have difficulty transitioning back to his or her role before the diagnosis.
(Still feeling shy about post treatment effects? Follow our 6 Steps to Help You Love Your Naked Body).

Breast Cancer and Your Emotions

While breast cancer often results in physical and physiological changes that can lead to a lessening in sexual desire, most experts on the subject say that it is actually emotional factors that are responsible for sexual issues. Breast cancer survivors may feel significant concern about reoccurrence and many women worry about a partner’s perception of how they look, leading to an avoidance of sexual intimacy. Doctors report that fear of pain and dryness keeps women from attempting sex, leading to a lack of sexual arousal that, over time, can actually contribute to dryness and discomfort.

Want to Get Back in the Saddle?

If you’re ready for sex after breast cancer, but still have concerns, these tips might help you get started:
  • Communicate with your lover about your concerns. Talk about what you want from that person as you start to experiment with having sex again. Consider your boundaries as well. Create a plan together.
  • Remember that your partner may be less focused on your scars than you think.
  • Start slowly. Begin with self-pleasuring as a way to ease your mind and body into sex again. This is a good, non-threatening way to identify what feels good and how you want to be touched.
  • Reframe your definition of sex. If you want to be intimate, you and your partner can use cuddles, kisses, sensual massage, non-invasive touch, sex toys, and masturbation to experiment with sexual pleasure.
(Read 10 Things You Don't Know About Self Love for more tips to regain sexual confidence).

Every Breast Cancer Survivor is Unique

Every woman’s experience of sex after cancer is different. Some women experience no discomfort and resume sexual activity with little change. Others may find the idea of sex too difficult for a period of time after breast cancer treatment. Don’t worry about your sexual response until you’re ready to resume sex, and don’t feel pressured to have sex if you’re not ready. Do not automatically assume that you will have issues. Keep the lines of communication open with your partner. When you’re ready to have sex again you will find a way to move forward. It may feel different at first, but it is important to re-engage and experience the pleasures of sexual intimacy.

These resources may address your questions about sex after breast cancer:

1) Ask the Experts, from the 2008 Sex, Intimacy, and Breast Cancer Conference

2) There is Sex After Breast Cancer

3) Sex After Breast Cancer

4) Low Sexual Desire and Breast Cancer
Walker Thornton

Walker Thornton is a 61-year-old sex writer, educator and public speaker. She has ranked in the Kinkly Sex Blogging Superheroes for the last three years. Walker has spoken at national sexuality conferences, speaking on midlife sexuality. She is a member of the Leadership Committee of the Sexuality and Aging Consortium at Widener University. Walker writes for Midlife Boulevard, Senior Planet and other websites and online magazines. You can connect with her on Facebook...

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