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by Scholten A

Sex After Breast Cancer

IMAGE During breast cancer treatment, many people are concerned about sex problems. It helps to know possible problems ahead of time. This can help you handle them as they come up.

Dealing With Vaginal Dryness

One side effect of chemotherapy can be vaginal dryness. This is due to early menopause caused by damage to the ovaries. Dryness can make sex painful or difficult. Here are some tips
  • Try using a water-based lubricant.
  • Avoid lubricants that can irritate the vagina, such as those with:
    • Perfumes or flavors
    • Herbal extracts
    • Additives that create a warming sensation
  • Try over-the-counter vaginal moisturizers between sex.

Sex After a Mastectomy

A mastectomy can affect your sex life. It is okay to mourn what you lost. It can take a while to adjust to the way you look and feel. Here are some tips:
  • Talk to your partner about your feelings. Ask for support.
  • If you feel self-conscious about sex, return to it slowly. Share some touch time. This will help you feel closer.
  • Tell your partner if something hurts. It may be an area that was not painful before surgery.
  • Your partner may be uncomfortable viewing or touching your scar. Talk about it. It may not have to do with your new look. Your partner may be afraid of hurting you.
Communication and humor are your best tools for rebuilding your sex life. If you and your partner keep having problems, a sex therapist may be able to help you.

Getting Into the Mood

For many reasons you may not feel like having sex. Perhaps you are too tired from treatment. There are exercises that may help you feel more in the mood. There is no pressure for genital contact or orgasm until you are ready. Try these steps with your partner:
  • Have your partner:
    • Touch the back of your body for 15 minutes first.
    • Touch the front of your body for another 15 minutes (but not your breasts and genitals).
    • Do the same for your partner.
  • Next, allow your partner to touch your genitals and breasts.
  • Touch your partner's genitals. If you are uncomfortable, just stick with the first step. Do this until you are ready to progress.
The sensations you share might include soft kissing, light touching, or massage. Use any type of touch that you or your partner enjoy. You may need to try a new way of having sex. Use the time to explore each other and make new connections. These steps may lead you to sexual intercourse and orgasm.

Not Feeling Ready

Do not forget the most important point. If you do not feel like having sex, you do not have to.
With or without sex, you can still have a loving, deep, close relationship. Keep an open mind. When you are ready, work your way slowly toward sexual intimacy.

RESOURCES

American Cancer Society
https://www.cancer.org
Breast Cancer Action
http://www.bcaction.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Cancer Society
http://www.cancer.ca
Women's Health Matters
http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca

References

Breast cancer in women. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/breast-cancer-in-women. Accessed October 20, 2021.
Facing forward; life after cancer treatment. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/life-after-treatment.pdf. Accessed October 20, 2021.
Hungr C, Sanchez-Varela V, Bober SL. Self-image and sexuality issues among young women with breast cancer: practical recommendations. Rev Invest Clin. 2017;69(2):114-122.
Sex and the adult female with cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/fertility-and-sexual-side-effects/sexuality-for-women-with-cancer.html. Accessed October 20, 2021.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board
  • Review Date: 10/2021
  • Update Date: 10/19/2021