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.
Coping with changes
But even as you get comfortable with the “new you” in the mirror, other parts of your body may be causing you problems in the bedroom. You may go through temporary menopause because of chemotherapy. Or if you have estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer, you may be taking hormonal therapy that can leave you in a menopausal state for years. The resulting vaginal dryness and other symptoms may make it painful to even think about having sex.
“A lot of women I see are afraid to have sex,” Carter tells WebMD. “They’re really struggling. And it’s a shame, because there are wonderful, simple strategies to improve your sexual experience that, taken together, can work wonders.”
Your “getting my groove back” tool kit should include:
Vaginal moisturizers. These aren’t lubricants, which are meant to be used during sex. Instead, they’re like the moisturizers you use on your face and hands, to benefit the tissues themselves. “They’re introduced as a suppository into the vagina adding moisture back into the vaginal space and giving it that natural elasticity,” says Carter. “It’s meant to be absorbed, and it helps the vagina to have more health and moisture for several days.”
Lubricants. You definitely still want a lubricant for use during intercourse, says Carter. But lubricants should be combined with regular, ongoing use of vaginal moisturizers for best results. “If you’re feeling a rubbing or burning sensation during intercourse,” Carter says, “you don’t have enough lubrication. If it’s a stretching, painful sensation like the skin is going to split, you don’t have enough moisture.”
Exercises. The classic Kegel exercises -- tightening and releasing the sphincter muscle as you do when you urinate -- that so many women use during pregnancy are also great for making intercourse easier. “If intercourse has been painful,” Carter says, “you may tighten up in anticipation of the pain. If you do Kegels right before intimacy, you fatigue the vaginal muscles and it is more open.”
Vaginal dilators. A sex therapist, like Dr. Carter, can teach you how to use these dilators, which help gently stretch the vaginal tissue.