Sexuality and intimacy

Breast cancer has all the issues of the other cancers, plus the added complication of sexuality and body image.The physical effects of breast cancer on the woman you love are a significant aspect of the disease.

Apart from the potential loss of all or part of a breast, early menopause from chemotherapy, infertility and the effect of treatment on libido, there are also issues of body image, sexual attractiveness and femininity.

As a couple, you may experience changes in your sexual relationship. This can be caused by physical or psychosocial reasons or both. Some cancer treatments can have a major impact on sex drive. The physical change to a woman can have a profound effect on her body image and this will affect her feelings of sexuality and love-making. Some women find it hard to undress in front of their husband after surgery.

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Getting past the physical appearance

It can be hard to get past the physical changes associated with treatment for breast cancer – for some men, it can be very hard. It may require a conscious re-evaluation of your own attitude. You may need to reprogram your thinking. Keep in mind what you know, that you are in love with a person, not with her body.

How to deal with breast cancer and sexuality

Communication, information and patience are the keys to understanding and coping with the physical and psychosocial effects of breast cancer on sexuality. Here are some suggestions to help you deal with the impact of breast cancer treatment on your sexual relationship.

  • Sexuality comes and goes. There’s a need to heal physically and sexually after treatment for breast cancer. If sex is important to you as a couple then you need to take time to re-create the sexual bond.
  • Information about how chemotherapy can cause early menopause can help you and the woman you love cope with the effects of this.
  • Talk to each other, take things slowly, spend time getting used to being naked together.
  • Sexuality is not just about sex. Couples may need to take a few steps back and build on intimacy (emotional not physical), strengthen communication, talk about needs. Our brain is our most important sex organ!
  • Don’t avoid the issue. She may interpret your distance (whatever the reason) as confirmation that she’s no longer desirable.
  • It’s still OK to have sex throughout.
  • The double bind: “It didn’t matter if I told her 37 times it didn’t change my feelings for her.” You may find it hard to convince the woman you love of your commitment. This can cause hostility and feelings of rejection on your part. You can handle these effectively if you’re aware that the situation may occur and have learned methods of dealing with it.
  • Be aware that sexual attractiveness and body image extends beyond the bedroom.
  • Talk to a professional if you are having problems adjusting. Studies show that mastectomy patients’ partners who received counselling were less distressed and more prepared to help the woman they love cope.