Sex, Sexuality and Breast Cancer

This image is from a Breast Cancer Foundation awareness campaign We all know that sexuality is a feeling, and sex is a physical act. The relationship between the two is complex, multi-dimensional, unique and intensely individual.

And delicate.

A vast range of different life events can impact on one or the other: having a baby, physical trauma, depression, weight gain or loss, stress and most significantly here: medical treatment. Breast cancer can affect ones sex life in so many ways.

There’s the initial stress and shock of diagnosis, launching an adrenalin-fuelled mode of coping and comprehending which can place sex on the backburner – filed away with ‘dancing’, ‘laughing’ and ‘feeling good’, things one imagines one will get back to one day, after cancer. Then there’s chemotherapy and the chance of early menopause, loss of libido, vaginal dryness, discomfort and just being too tired and ill to contemplate sex.

Hormonal changes can be an added factor in reducing sexual drive and needs to be discussed with your oncology team as there are many ways of addressing this issue;  don’t keep quiet reach out and ask for help !

And then there’s surgery. Mastectomy, lumpectomy and possibly the slow process of reconstruction, all of which taking place in an area of a woman’s body inherently associated with sex.

It’s a whole bunch of hard knocks for something as ethereal and complex as our sexuality to endure. Every person is different, every couple too. Some breast cancer patients say they had sex regularly immediately post-diagnosis – that it became a reassurance, a stress inhibitor or a way of bonding with their partner through this devastating time. Others say they didn’t have sex once through diagnosis and treatment, and only slowly started reawakening their sex lives well after remission.

But a complaint that many breast cancer patients share, and this is a group comprising largely of women, is the difficulty in discussing sex with their doctors. Female sexuality can be undervalued, there’s a notion that women won’t ‘miss sex’ as much as men and so the topic is often avoided by oncologists altogether.

There may be some discussion about freezing ones eggs and the chances of conception post-cancer, but while there are a plethora of pamphlets in the waiting room on dealing with hair loss, and a vast amount of available information on breast reconstruction or prosthesis, there’s often very little comfortable space to talk about sex. And talk we must. With our doctors, our partners, our changed selves. Talk to your body in the mirror, find ways to communicate your concerns and desires with your partner, and talk to your medical team.

Reach out for help as soon as possible you don’t have to journey alone.

Click here 

and here

for recommended reading

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3 thoughts on “Sex, Sexuality and Breast Cancer

  1. Thank you Cancer Alliance for the initiative to start this blog and the conversation about breast cancer in South Africa. I believe sexuality is our whole being, who we are in terms of our own sex, our gender roles, our cultural background, AND most importantly for breast cancer survivors our perceptions of and attitudes towards our physical body.
    It is about how we feel about ourselves, its about how we feel about our womanhood or manhood and then about our relationships and our body, sex and the rest. So for me as a breast cancer survivor I had to come to terms with the reality that its not my breast cancer that defines me, it is not mastectomy that defines me. I am still woman, I acknowledged and embraced the reality of the diagnosis and then worked on loving myself to the point where I loved my body that has been infiltrated by cancer, and then I had to have treatment to eradicate it from my body. I have not made a paradigm shift in terms of my sexuality but I had to revisit who I am as a woman post my diagnosis. And this included my self esteem, body image, sexual being, and relationships. Breast cancer survivors and the partners, family and friends of survivors It may be hard to revisit your perception of who you are in terms of your sexuality or your loved one but start the process, slowly first with yourself and then perhaps with a loved one, or your partner, parent, spouse, another survivor and I promise you it will become better as time moves on …….but don’t fret about it……….When you take it within your stride you’ll feel better……….eventually accepting yourself becomes easier, relations become easier, sexual relationships become easier.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us. I am sure many women will relate to what you say. I loved your comment “I acknowledged and embraced the reality of the diagnosis and then worked on loving myself to the point where I loved my body that has been infiltrated by cancer, and then I had to have treatment to eradicate it from my body”. So powerful, so true!

  2. This is powerful! and comes straight from the bottom of your heart – I once shared a book with a friend at the time of diagnosis, which I have on my hallway table to remind me daily. “When I loved myself enough” by Kim McMillen… it is a good basic little guide.
    We hope to use this site as a tool for sharing and caring with the input from the ordinary person out there!
    xx

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