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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Breast Cancer: Sex and Intimacy

There's no denying that the sexual side effects of breast cancer can linger long after treatment is over, but there is sex after breast cancer.

Sex and self-image continued...

A great book that can help is Show Me: A Photo Collection of Breast Cancer Survivors’ Lumpectomies, Mastectomies, Breast Reconstructions and Thoughts on Body Image. It was created by women in a cancer survivors’ group at Penn State.

“The way your partner looks at your incision for the first time,” says Lillie Shockney, RN, “you’ll remember that forever.” Shockney is administrative director of the Johns Hopkins Breast Center and a breast cancer survivor herself. “If he has no clue what to expect and has a puzzled look on his face, the woman may interpret it as ‘He thinks I’m ugly, he thinks this is awful.’ Showing photographs can take the surprise away.”

Communication is important. Talk with your partner about what you’re comfortable with, and what you’re not. “Both partners may be waiting for the other one to make the first move,” says Shockney. “She’s waiting for him to tell her he wants sex, and he’s waiting for her to touch him.” Your partner may be afraid of hurting you, or afraid that you’ll think he’s pushing you to have sex when you’re not ready simply by asking about it.

If your breasts were major erogenous zones for you before surgery, you may be feeling particularly bereft after a mastectomy or even a lumpectomy. Shockney suggests taking the pressure off by exploring and discovering other areas of your body, rather than trying to “force it” in areas where you still have performance or body image issues. “For some women, the diminished arousal in areas of a newly constructed breast or scar tissue might serve as a painful reminder that their sex life has changed,” Shockney says. Instead, think of areas like shoulders, ears, and knees as new hot spots for intimate touch.

If you’re still not comfortable with your new body, that’s what lingerie is for! There’s nothing wrong with getting a little help. A soft, satin nightie can be sexy and arousing. At the same time, it can help to conceal areas you’re still shy about.

Or you can get even more creative. “I asked a patient to try using a feather boa to help her feel sexy, and at the same time keep her scars from being so evident. She loves it!” says Shockney. “It’s all about finding what you’re comfortable with.”

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