Adapted from Jennifer King’s book, Holding Your Hand: A Breast Cancer Companion, a guide to overcoming fears of the unknown. After facing the emotional and physical challenges of such a diagnosis, the author found some comfort in the road to recovery.
Sex is not a frequent topic of discussion with doctors and oncologists, or even friends. However, the changes and adaptations brought on by breast cancer can be significant for you and your partner, depending on how important VR Intimacy was in your life before your diagnosis and treatment.
Personally, sex was the least of my concerns as I tried to adjust to my new reality as a breast cancer patient undergoing treatment. My cancer had positive estrogen receptors. It was therefore necessary to reduce the presence of this hormone in my body, which practically killed my libido. Snuggling up to someone and just being hugged was a great comfort to me and I shared that with my husband. Being open and communicating this felt need helped us and we focused on the pleasure and closeness it brought us.
Some form of sexual dysfunction is common in the majority of breast cancer patients. The effects of treatments, self-esteem, body image, anxiety, fear and fatigue cause loss of libido in most women. Some mastectomy patients feel a detachment from their body and see themselves as distorted and unattractive. The following tips are offered to help you regain a sense of yourself and to maintain good sexual health. I have followed some of these recommendations myself. The others come from different sources. Don’t hesitate to try only what you feel comfortable with.
- Finding clothes and lingerie that make you feel attractive and alluring helps to arouse passion to some extent. I found some lovely negligee that spiced up the moment while hiding the scar from my mastectomy and my missing breast. Erotic films and literature can also help arouse libido. Sex toys, like vibrators, could also be a good addition to your sex life.
- Pampering yourself can make you feel special and attractive. Candlelight bubble baths are a great way to enjoy your body.
- Reducing estrogen decreases lubrication and promotes vaginal dryness. Both of these side effects can make sex uncomfortable. Vaginal dryness can be alleviated by regularly using vaginal moisturizer and using a lubricant during sexual activities. Look for vaginal moisturizers that are water-based and hormone-free gel. They are specially designed to be used periodically (two to three times a week) to maintain or regain adequate vaginal moisture. I have found that Replens has helped me, but other brands offer this type of product as well. In addition to regularly using vaginal moisturizer, using vaginal lubricant immediately before sex can increase your well-being.
There is a very expensive laser treatment for vaginal dryness called “Mona Lisa touch” that will improve symptoms after three to five sessions. I don’t know anyone who has tried it, but it could be a possibility.
Soap dries up the vaginal wall, it seems. Therefore, soap-free baths are recommended. It might also help when mild urinary incontinence develops.
- I have found that physical activity helps me feel more energetic and less neglected and keeps my body in acceptable shape. I tried my best to stick to my daily yoga and Pilates schedule in addition to walking or cycling.
- Counseling is another supportive option in dealing with the emotions that lead to the loss of a positive body image.
- Communicating with your partner is crucial in enabling them to understand how you feel physically and emotionally and what you need. My husband and I planned the days we would have sex. It might just be a hug, but time for privacy was important. I set the tone by lighting candles and keeping the lights dim, which in turn helped by making me feel like my missing breast was less noticeable. Scheduling an intimate date may seem lacking in spontaneity, but in reality, it takes the pressure off. It is no longer necessary to project the image of someone who always wants to have sex and is ready to do it all the time.
Although the definition of sexual health varies with each person, I believe that intimacy is an important aspect of healthy relationships. Have frank conversations and find what works for your partner and is worth it for you. No matter what advice you take or what action you take, try not to take yourself too seriously when having sex. Enjoying the presence of the other and the intimacy that comes with frank and open communication can be very satisfying, since your goal should be to get closer and maintain this closeness.