Sex, sexuality, and intimacy are important issues for people who have undergone breast cancer surgery and need to be addressed. Studies have reported that sexuality and intimacy have been shown to help people face cancer by helping them deal with feelings of distress, and when going through treatment.
Losing a breast can be very distressing. Surgery for breast cancer can interfere with pleasure from breast caressing.
Read on to learn more on how to maintain optimum sexual health after Breast cancer surgery.
Sexual Issues that Arise after Breast Cancer Surgery
After a mastectomy, some women dislike being touched there and may no longer even enjoy having the remaining breast and nipple touched. Others who have had a mastectomy feel self-conscious being the partner on top during sex. This position makes it easy to notice that the breast is missing.
While getting radiation, the skin may become red and swollen. The breast also may be tender or painful in some places. As time passes, some women may have areas of numbness or decreased sensation near the surgical scar.
Managing Sexual Issues after Breast Cancer Surgery
Managing sexual problems is important. This might involve several different therapies, treatments, or devices, or a combination of them. Counseling can also prove helpful.
Any changes to your body may affect your confidence and feelings about yourself as a woman. You might be anxious about your first sexual experience following your diagnosis, or worried things will not be the same as before.
All of these worries are normal and it may take time for your confidence to return and for you to feel comfortable being intimate with a partner or having sex again.
Spend Quality time with your partner
If you have a partner, this will call for readjustment after your diagnosis and treatment.
How your partner responds to you sexually may be influenced to a degree by how they reacted to your breast cancer. While some people’s sex lives continue much as before, with partners taking on an overly protective role. They may not want to mention or initiate sex for fear of upsetting or hurting you.
Talk out your emotions with your partner, share your thoughts and concerns. Don’t rely on assumptions about how the other feels. Being able to talk openly about your situation can mean that together you are able to find solutions. This may be a gradual process but avoiding problems altogether may make them more difficult to resolve in the long run.
Remember, You & Your Relationship is Unique
Each person’s intimate and sexual relationships will be unique, so to begin with do not compare.
However, if you and your partner can communicate supportively with one another, there’s no reason why your sexual relationship shouldn’t be satisfying and fulfilling for you both.
Tips for talking to your partner
- While it may be difficult at first, try to be open and honest about how you are feeling – this can avoid mixed signals, and make your partner aware of your limits
- Talk to your partner when you’re not being intimate, so you don’t feel awkward or interrupted during those times
- If there are aspects of intimacy that you feel uncomfortable discussing in person, try emailing or texting instead
- Talk about the things you’ve been enjoying as well as those you’ve found difficult – this can help you both to feel encouraged and relaxed
- Keep talking to each other to make sure you are clear about any boundaries and have the same expectations
- Finding new ways of continuing to be intimate with your partner may help you to adjust to the physical and emotional changes that have happened until you reach a point where you feel more comfortable.
- Think more widely about sex and consider other ways to be intimate. You might find this reduces your anxiety and allows you to enjoy your body and/or a partner’s body in a different way.
- It’s worth bearing in mind that many women adapt to changes to their body over time and continue to have fulfilling relationships and lives after breast cancer.
Is Your Plan to start a new relationship after breast cancer?
Beginning a sexual relationship after breast cancer surgery may bring on feelings of anxiety – for example, about telling someone you’ve had surgery for breast cancer and at what stage you should do this.
If you weren’t in a relationship when you were diagnosed, or your relationship ended after your diagnosis, meeting someone new may mean telling them about your breast cancer. Deciding when and how to do this can be difficult.
You may feel there isn’t a right time to talk about this or be unable to find the words. But as you get to know someone and feel more comfortable with them, you may find it easier to talk about all aspects of your life, including your breast cancer.
Talk When you Feel Right
When you feel the time is right to tell your new partner they may respond in a number of ways. They may initially be shocked and take a little time to adjust to this news. They may have their own anxieties and fears around cancer and what it means to them. Or your new partner may be very accepting of your history and recognize that your experience of breast cancer is now part of who you are.
When you start a new relationship, you and your partner will decide on the right time to be intimate. If you’re feeling anxious about this because of your breast cancer, talk to them about your concerns and the specific things you are worried about.
Consult a Specialist
If you’re concerned about any issues relating to how you feel about your body or a sex life that you want help in resolving, it may help to talk to your treatment team, breast care nurse, or GP in the first instance.
Sometimes you may need specialist help. This may mean you, or you and your partner, seeing a counselor or a therapist who deals specifically with sexual issues. Your GP or breast care nurse should be able to help arrange this for you. Alternatively, you can contact an organization such as COSRT (College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists), RELATE, or IPM (Institute of Psychosexual Medicine).
Talking about changes to your body, sex and intimacy can be difficult. But addressing your concerns is an important part of your breast cancer treatment and care. Our PDF icon prompt list (PDF) is designed to help you discuss these issues with your healthcare professional or when calling our Helpline.