After you get a breast cancer diagnosis, sex is the the last thing on your mind. More, it’s likely to find its way to the back of the burner once chemo and radiation start. In addition, many find that mastectomies change how they view their bodies and experience themselves as sexual people.
Breast Cancer Treatment and Sex.
Physicians and other medical professionals’ primary goal is to save your life. They’ll do anything they can to support your healing. However, many patients find that very little focus is given to how various medical treatments could change the quality of their life, especially sexually. Cancer treatments can alter what use to be very familiar, if not predictable. The following are common side-effects of cancer treatment according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Difficulty reaching climax
- Less energy for sexual activity
- Loss of desire for sex
- Pain during penetration
- Reduced size of the vagina
- Vaginal dryness
Five Considerations to Reclaim Your Sexual Health.
1. The New (Improved) Normal.
It’s normal for you to experience a change in desire and arousal during and after treatment. You might find that treatment changes how your body responds to what was previously viewed as pleasurable. Now, you can reclaim your divine inheritance–the experience of sexual pleasure–through establishing a new normal.
- Discover how arousal and desire work now.
- What have your learned about your interest in sex? Is it morning, afternoon and/or evening?
- What’s needed to reduce any pain or discomfort?
- How has your orgasmic response changed?
2. Redefining Sex.
For many of us, we equate sex with penetration. Sex is so much more. After treatment, you might find that penetration is more difficult, if not painful. Time might help resolve this. During the meantime, however, this is a wonderful opportunity to redefine and expand the definition of sex by discovering non-erotic ways of enjoying yourself and your partner, through sensual baths, cuddling, kissing, touching, gentle massages.
If you’re not feeling up to engaging your partner sexually, be sure to indicate to your partner that self-pleasuring (i.e., masturbation or solo-sex) is acceptable, if not encouraged. More, that you don’t view the aforementioned as a threat but as a complement to your evolving sexual relationship. You can indicate your approval by gifting a pleasure toy, book, or dvd. You might also find that your interest in penetration is lacking but that you’re up for manually stimulating your partner or providing oral pleasure. Keep in mind, however, you are not responsible for your partner’s sexual pleasure; that’s their job!
3. Communicate with your Partner.
Partners often feel resentful for how cancer has altered the nature of the relationship. What was once a fun existence, so much seriousness has entered the relationship. Cancer has its way doing this. You and your partner can benefit from frank discussions about the importance of remaining a team. Spend more time talking and listening; otherwise, cancer might force its way into becoming the center of attention permanently. Oh, and put down the devices like the phone or tablet. Connect!
Nevertheless, the impact of facing one’s mortality or one’s partners is often scary and painful. Male-partners, in particular, may experience bewilderment and anxiety about how to sexually approach their partners. They intuit that the rules have changed but no one has updated them on the rules. They can benefit from talking about their insecurities. More, they can benefit from hearing from you about how your experience of yourself sexually has changed. This can be a great opportunity to update your Love Map about what pleases the other.
4. Lubrication is Your Friend!
Treatment may result in an increase in vaginal dryness. Perhaps before treatment, you had no trouble becoming sufficiently lubricated when aroused; after treatment, your vagina and labia may feel dry. Thankfully, there are a lot of good options for you.
- Good old vegetable shortening*!
- Olive oil*
- Coconut oil*
- Water-based lubricants
- Silicone-based lubricants
It’s highly recommended to refrain from any lubricants with unnecessary ingredients (parabens, glycerin and propylene glycol), flavors or colors. *Oil-based lubricants are not latex compatible; use non-latex condoms.
5. Professional Support or Advice.
It is okay to seek out the professional support of a relationship therapist or sex therapist. These professionals are uniquely trained to provide guidance and techniques for increasing intimacy, decreasing relationship conflict, providing tips and tools for improving sexual satisfaction, among others. Lastly, take advantage of the many books out there, including Sex and Cancer: Intimacy, Romance, and Love after Diagnosis and Treatment by Saketh Guntupalli, MD and Maryann Karinch, as well as Intimacy after Breast Cancer: Dealing with Your Body, Relationships and Sex by Gina Maisano.
Cancer doesn’t have to be the book end of your sexual life. On the contrary, a quality sex life can add to your recovery. We know that sex improves immune function, reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, provides pain relief, among other benefits. Reclaim your divine inheritance.