Section 7: Breast Cancer, Sexuality, and Dating

HIGHLIGHTS

  • This section provides you with guidance and support on ways to help you feel beautiful, sexy and appealing to your partner again. We provide you with suggested solutions to common sexual problems that women experience when they have breast cancer.

  • Loss of desire for sex is a problem that often has more than one cause: stress, changes in how sexy you feel, tension in your relationship, chronic fatigue, medicines that can lower your desire for sex, and no pleasure that used to come from breast caressing.

  • Sexual communication may be even more important after breast cancer treatment than at the start of a new relationship. Practice how to talk more openly with your partner about sex.

  • Young breast cancer survivors often report feeling less sexually attractive than women who do not have cancer. It can take some effort to feel good again about your body and to think of touch as something that brings pleasure rather than pain.

  • Once you are used to your changed appearance, it may still be hard to let your sexual partner see your breasts. Stay focused on what looks good on your body and before you try sexual touching with a partner, get comfortable withinyourself about the way your body looks and feels.

  • You can work with your sexual partner to approach lovemaking gradually; starting out with cuddling, caressing, and kissing, and then getting more comfortable with your partner seeing and touching your breast area.

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SUMMARY

FEELING SEXY AND ATTRACTIVE AGAIN

During and after breast cancer treatment (e.g., surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy) it may be hard to see yourself as beautiful and sexy. As a young breast cancer survivor, you may find it particularly challenging to get used to the changes in your breast appearance and sensation, and may find yourself worrying more about pleasing your partner. You may also have concerns about showing your body to your partner and experience problems having sex.

However, you have been through a meaningful journey and the changes in your appearance are marks of courage and faith. It may take some time, but you can grow to become more comfortable with your new body. Always remember that through it all, you are still the beautiful and sexy woman you were before your diagnosis.

SHOWING YOUR BODY TO THE ONE YOU LOVE

Once you are used to your changed appearance, it may still be hard to let your sexual partner see your breasts. Perhaps you have always been shy about nudity, or if you were more open, you may have switched to getting dressed in the closet or bathroom so that nobody else can see you. Your partner may try to give you time to heal by waiting for a signal from you that you are ready to be intimate. You can take small steps to let your partner see your body as it is now. Try some of these ideas:

  • Before you try sexual touching with a partner, get comfortable yourself with the way your body looks and feels. Once you have healed from breast surgery, touch your scars lightly or rub some body lotion on them. Look at yourself in the mirror until you get used to the changes.

  • If it is more comfortable, as a first step, let your lover touch some parts of your body gently, without looking.

  • If you are uncomfortable, the first time you let your partner see your body, light the room with just a candle or a dim lamp. Remember that your feelings are likely to heal over time. It is entirely possible that you will be okay with being seen naked and being touched by your partner.

TALKING WITH YOUR PARTNER ABOUT SEX AFTER BREAST CANCER

Women are often raised to believe that a man who is a good lover just knows what women need. If you have to tell a guy how you like to be touched, there must be something wrong with him, or maybe with you. Many women still believe it is not feminine to ask for a certain kind of touch or position during lovemaking. If you would like to be able to talk about sex more openly with your partner, here are some suggestions:

  • Pick a time to talk about sex outside the bedroom. It is often more relaxing and less tense to talk about sex before, instead of during, your actual lovemaking.

  • Make sure you and your partner have some time and privacy to talk.

  • Focus on one or two small changes you would like to make in your sex life. Maybe you would like to spend more time on foreplay, would like your partner not to caress your breasts, or would like to add some extra lubricant as part of lovemaking.

  • Be specific and positive in asking for change. Avoid criticizing your partner.

IMPACT OF BREAST CANCER ON COMMITTED RELATIONSHIPS

Women who have breast cancer do not have an unusual rate of divorce. However, results from a research project (the SPIRIT project) found that about half of the young African American survivors interviewed said cancer had a negative impact on a committed relationship. This is over twice the typical rate of problems reported by young White survivors. It is unclear if this is a cultural difference or just the results of one, small study, but if your relationship has suffered, consider some couple's counseling rather than just living with problems. Even the best relationship needs constant care and dealing with cancer is a major stress on both partners.

DATING AFTER BREAST CANCER

After breast cancer, it is very reassuring to meet someone who finds you attractive and lovable. The excitement of a new relationship is also hard to match. For these reasons, women with new partners are the breast cancer survivors with the highest sexual satisfaction. Women do find good relationships after breast cancer—but you are more likely to meet someone if you feel confident about your self-worth and look for partners in the right places.


Click here for more in-depth information on Tips for Dating after Breast Cancer.


Section 7: Breast Cancer, Sexuality, and Dating

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African American YBCS Survivor Quote

“What in the world is going on? Can we say that chemo puts us in SEX overdrive? The meds definitely caused my sexual drive to increase and this is not fun for a single lady. I should have a warning sign hanging around my neck—Beware, I may steal your cookies.”