Sexuality after Breast Cancer
Breast cancer can be particularly devastating for women in terms of their body image and therefore their sexuality. In Western society, breasts are perceived as ‘sexy’, rather than as mammary glands of practical use in feeding one’s offspring. Size of breast is also equated with sexual desirability, which is why the breast augmentation industry is booming.
Any tumor in the breast can be upsetting due the life-threatening nature of cancer. Breast cancer surgery can be upsetting due to scarring, and in the case of mastectomy, due to the complete removal of the breast. This can make a woman feel less than desirable and dampen her interested in sex because she has a poor body image.
For most women, a special bra with a breast prosthesis inside of it will give them a normal external appearance. There are also special swimsuits for women who have had a mastectomy.
For women who are very self-conscious, breast reconstruction during or after surgery to remove their breast is possible. However, it will require harvesting skin from other parts of the body to get a ‘breast’, aureole and nipple, which can be painful in addition to the mastectomy. The new breast will be filled with a silicone or saline (salt water) filling to resemble the feel of a real breast. As the scars heal, a woman should have a natural appearance that will help her get her sexy back.
Pain numbness, loss of sensation
Sometimes the area can be painful, numb, or lose sensation as part of sexual arousal. There will also be no erotic sensation in a reconstructed breast.
Sex starts in the mind
However, regardless of having one breast or two, reconstruction or not, the truth is that sexy starts in the mind. If a woman views herself as ‘sick’, she will act sick. By contrast, if she has a more positive attitude, she will exude confidence, which can be very sexy.
Spouse and partner support
If a woman is married or has a partner, it is important to be open and honest about feelings and about the best ways to express sexuality. Breast cancer treatment can be a long road of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and hormone therapy. A partner might worry about the wounds, and feel inconsiderate about their desires if you are fatigued and nauseous.
In addition, hormone therapy given for certain types of cancer can play havoc with your desire, so that even women who once had a very active sex life might feel ‘switched off’.
The main thing is to acknowledge that sex is an important part of a couple’s life together, and you will both do your best to maintain intimacy on your breast cancer journey.