Breast Cancer and Sexuality
This is a recurring and important topic, and one that is not so frequently discussed. A diagnosis of any serious or life-threatening illness is a major, even if temporary, blow to libido and intimacy, and months of treatment likely prolong the problem. When a woman is first diagnosed, the questions about sexuality are probably not at the top of her worry list. There are exceptions, of course, and I especially remember a woman in her early 70s who told me that she would have surgery, but nothing else, as she was worried that any systemic treatment (chemotherapy or hormonal treatment) would diminish her apparently thriving sex life. For most of us, we may well crave closeness and love in the early dark days, but it is the emotional tenderness that we need. As time passes, life begins to resume some kind of normal pattern, and intimacy and sexuality again become important. As I often say, a diagnosis of breast cancer is never a sexual aide. Did you ever see a listing in a personal ad or an online program that said: "Like walking the beach, old red wine, and had breast cancer." No.
The reassuring statement is that is does get better, and this guide from Living Beyond Breast Cancer is excellent. It can be downloaded or you can request a paper copy. Here is the beginning and a link:
Your first priority after a breast cancer diagnosis is to find the most effective treatments for you. It is also im- portant to learn about possible side effects. One of those side effects is the change you may feel in your sexual relationships, sexual health and function, and level of sexual satisfaction.
Although healthcare providers may not bring it up, treat- ment can affect both intimacy and sexuality. Intimacy is often thought of as the same as sexuality, but it is different. Intimacy means an emotional connectedness or closeness with another person. Sexuality involves your feelings and beliefs about yourself as a sexual being. Sexuality includes how you feel in your own body, and how you feel being touched and touching, kissing, masturbating, and having intercourse or penetration. You can have intimacy without sex—and sex without intimacy.
For many people, sexuality is an important part of every- day life. It can foster our enthusiasm for living and for our self-image, our bodies and our relationships.
Many factors can come together to reduce sexual desire, including fatigue, menopausal symptoms, pain during sexual activity and breast cancer treatment itself. Anxiety, fear, depression, weight gain, grief over the loss of your breast or breasts, negative feelings about changes in your body, and worry about treatment or recurrence can impact your ability to express yourself sexually.