Sex after breast cancer: A personal story
Changes in your body and feelings of vulnerability might make you hesitant, but it’s possible to enjoy making love again. Read Becky’s story and scan down for our tips.
“Just contemplating sex after breast cancer surgery can make you feel quite vulnerable and uncertain, particularly when you’re considering how to even address it with your partner. I know. I’ve been there,” says Becky.
“The first challenge you may face is in letting your partner see your bare chest for the first time. My husband saw my chest even before I did because he had to change my dressings and drain my drainage tubes the evening of my surgery. Neither of us was ready to think about how I looked, let alone talk about it.
“So, although Jim had seen what my chest looked like, we still had not really considered my chest as it related to our lovemaking. We did not even get close to dealing with how my surgery would affect our sex life until my drainage tubes were out and my chest had healed enough to tolerate a fair amount of touch.”
Communicate with your partner about what you need
It was very important to Becky to have her husband initiate sex again. “I needed him to ask if we could make love. Normally, we both felt comfortable initiating sex but now I felt far too vulnerable to suggest sex.
“We made love when I was about two weeks post-op. My husband’s initiation reassured me that he did not find me disgustingly ugly and that we could still be intimate together. I couldn’t have cared less how it was that night; all I needed to know was that it would still be part of our lives. It was a while later that we faced looking at my chest as part of our sexual experience. One night, while making love, Jim stopped what we were doing and sat me up facing him, and took off my top. He looked directly at my chest and just held me as I cried. Neither of us spoke a word. Our actions and the loving acceptance that filled the room said it better than any words could have.”
As Becky attests, this is one area in which no-one can write a script for you. “We all have our own ways of feeling sexy and desirable, and have our own levels of comfort with regard to initiating sex and revealing our body. You need to trust that the love between you and your partner will pave the way for both of you to accept how your body looks and be able to return to pleasurable lovemaking. My advice is, don’t wait too long. The anticipation of the first time may cause you to become overly anxious.”
Rediscovering sex after breast cancer – your way
Whether you have lost one or both breasts, after breast cancer sex may be different for you, depending on the changes to your body. A woman’s nipples and breast skin have a lot of sexual nerve endings. The nipples are set up neurologically so that when they are stimulated they send sexual pleasure sensations to the genitals. When the breast is removed, this powerful sexual source no longer exists. This can be experienced as a great loss to the woman for her own pleasure, as well as her partner’s.
Some women also experience skin pain that makes the breast area very uncomfortable to touch. The nerve endings in the breast and surrounding area may feel raw. This sensation tends to decrease gradually over many years, but it can come and go from day to day, making sex after breast cancer still more complicated. The pain makes it very difficult for your partner to know whether or not to involve your chest, and you are not able to provide one simple rule about what is or is not comfortable and pleasurable because it can change constantly.
This is another reason that open communication is so important. You need to be able to talk about the changes in your body’s sensations. Accepting pain rather than discussing the matter can lead to a whole new set of problems. Even after breast cancer, sex is supposed to be a time when you share bodily pleasures, not a time to endure misery. If you try to disguise pain instead of telling your partner what you need, you will find yourself stiffening your body as a way to brace against anticipated pain. Stiffening your body is exactly the opposite of what you should be doing to achieve full sexual pleasure. You need to be able to relax and give your body over to the sensations, instead of controlling what is happening with your mind. When we use our mind too much during sex, we complicate the experience and cheat ourselves and our partners.
Enjoy better sex
If you find that you have lost sexual sensation and/or have a painful sensation in your chest area, ask yourself what other things you and your partner can do to make sex enjoyable. For example, your lips are also an erotic part of your body that have a neurological connection to your genitals just as your nipples did, but the connection is usually not as intense. Pay attention to your body and it will tell you what it likes. This is an important time to explore your senses and discover how they can enhance your lovemaking. Your senses of taste, touch, sight, smell and hearing can all add to your sexual pleasure.
Sexual passion is a natural, normal way to express our love and desire to be closely connected to our partner. This may be one of the most emotionally difficult aspects of your recovery, but over time sex after breast cancer will become easier: you and your partner will be perfectly in-sync just as you were before your surgery – or maybe even more so.