Thursday, September 30, 2010

More on Sexuality after Breast Cancer

Judging by the response to my previous post it seems I have mentioned the 'unmentionable'

Thank you for your  comments on the blog, and also to those that have chosen to email me personally. Maybe I had underestimated the degree of change in attitudes towards sexuality and sex after breast cancer diagnosis and/or treatment.

Given the level of interest, I decided to follow up on the original research. It led me to the Breast Cancer Network Australia and the results were published in the BEACON magazine. I had only to seek out my Autumn edition. If you would like to know more, simply follow the link:

I have chosen to speak out on behalf of all women who have felt that for too long the problem has been hidden. Sex and sexuality is a very sensitive area and one that has a profound impact on women.

I have included a brief summary of some of the problems mentioned in the article and would be happy to cover them more fully if requested, although it is recommended that you check with your doctor, breast care nurse and/or the website mentioned. It may take courage for you to become proactive and enlist the help of sex therapists or counsellors but anything is possible.

 1.   Sexual confidence and barriers to sexuality
  • physical effects such as fatigue, breast tenderness, pain and loss of sensation
  • sometimes partners have trouble accepting the changes. Feelings may be different.
  • partners may stop making sexual requests because they don't want to put pressure on us
  • intimacy and sexuality is not just about sex.
  • body image is important.
  • adult products can enhance sex life.
  • online forums and breast cancer support groups may be helpful
  • then of course there is blogging; we are becoming 'old hands' at that
2.   An end to spontaneity
Spontaneity can become a thing of the past; it can become a major planned event. Sex can become not only unbearably painful, but virtually impossible. Treatment can put you into early menopause.

3.   Vaginal dryness: a common problem
Vaginal dryness can be a distressing side effect of some breast cancer treatments. It is one that is not often talked about and is often associated with menopause, both natural, and early, brought on by cancer treatments. Oestrogen levels drop causing the vaginal walls to become thinner and less flexible producing less lubricating fluid. Sex may become painful resulting in vaginal bleeding. There are a number of products that may be useful.

Common suggestions from women include:
  • be yourself
  • be honest
  • sexuality is more than a woman's breasts
  • ask advice from people who have been there, or health professionals
  • talk about sexual needs
  • take time for yourself
  • do things that make you feel good about yourself
Women may find the following useful:
  •  lubricants
  • massage
  • different positions
  • oral sex
  • vibrator or masturbation
  • creating an environment to help 'getting in the mood'
  • believe in yourself
More than 50% of women said they had not discussed with anyone the challenges they were experiencing with their sexuality or sex life. Let this be a forum for fellow bloggers to do it differently.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.


Carole said...

Hi Chez,
Not just Breast Cancer - these are things I've certainly been struggling with now and can see that I will be for some time yet :-(

It's both the effects of the treatment and pending treatment plus your own 'self image' (in my case anyway). said...

Hi Cheryl,
Just the fact that blogs like yours and mine are talking about sexual difficulties is a huge leap. Previous generations suffered in silence, I fear, not talking to their spouse or their doctors. While it doesn't solve our problems, it's comforting to know we're not the only one experiencing them.

Women, have you thought about having your husbands read our blogs on these subjects, as well as all of our comments? Again, it won't solve the problem, but it may give them a different perspective.


Diana M. Raab said...

Great post and definitely a problem rarely addressed by professionals and the literature. Thank you for addressing!

Thankfully I didn't have chemo or radiation, but I did have a mastectomy and reconstruction leaving me with no sensation on that side. That poses a different set of problems for intimacy and it's important for women to speak to their partners about this. Because there is no sensation on that side, the tendency is for males to ignore that side which is really not a good thing, because it feeds into the feelings of loss the woman has. They need to be told to fondle both breasts.

For more on this, check out my book, HEALING WITH WORDS: A WRITER'S CANCER JOURNEY.

Diana M. Raab, MFA, RN

diane said...

A very helpful post for others.