There are many ways a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment can impact your sexual life. In anticipation of our new publication, Breast Cancer inFocus: Getting the Care You Need as a Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual Person, Susan DiPronio blogs about navigating sex and dating after breast cancer in the LGBT community.
While we’re dealing with breast cancer and the side effects of treatment, it’s difficult to embrace our sexual needs immediately and long after treatment ends. Our bodies are ragged. We’ve been exhausted for, well, years. Maybe we’ve lost lovers or friends, and for some of us, jobs, careers. For those of us who identify as lesbian or bisexual, we became invisible, almost dissolving into the background of the LGBT community, that social scene where we’re now a stranger invited, but not valued.
When I was going through chemo, a friend came to visit me. She talked about her night out at the bars, sharing her usual brand of entertaining trash-talk. All the while not looking me in the eye, intentionally avoiding my gaze. I was used to it, expected it. My appearance scared me enough that I couldn’t look in a mirror. My friend starts telling me about a woman she was shocked to see out the night before, partying with other women, dancing nonetheless. My friend mentioned that this woman had cancer. She was stunned that the woman would be out. I was stunned that my friend was saying this to me.
Our sexual and emotional desires don’t just end because we’ve had breast cancer. Yet, people shuffle us into another kind of closet, the “cancer closet,” and assume we no longer have an appetite for sex and intimacy.
As survivors, we also put pressure on ourselves when it comes to sex after breast cancer. Breasts are a big part of sex and if they’re gone or scarred, we don’t feel as if anyone would want us and our self-esteem suffers. But sexual desire never disappears. How do we navigate this difficult metamorphosis? Where do we find the support so necessary in rebuilding a positive body image? I’ve decided to become the person I used to be and not be afraid to touch my scars, to embrace sexuality, to look at myself in the mirror. Continue reading