This entry was written by Sabitha Pillai-Friedman, PhD, LCSW. Sabitha will lead the Sex Matters! Finding Your Groove workshop at this year’s fall conference this Saturday.
As a sex therapist, I treat a fair number of women affected by breast cancer and their partners. As the relationship and sexual issues unravel in my office, I have learned that women and their partners face many layers of challenge in reclaiming their sexuality.
Stress, depression and anxiety that accompany stages of breast cancer treatment can impact greatly on a sexual re-adjustment. For example, chemotherapy and endocrine therapies can result in menopausal symptoms such as vaginal dryness, night sweats and/or hot flashes.
Breast cancer diagnosis, treatments and the aftermath can be an emotional and challenging time for most women and their partners. Although reconstruction has come a long way in providing women with great cosmetic results, most women I treat struggle to eroticize their reconstructed breasts.
How can women eroticize their new bodies and reclaim their sexual self?
- You and your partner need to make it a priority to reclaim your sexuality. It requires some research, work and commitment.
- Talk to your oncologist, gynecologist or sexual health provider about symptoms that interfere with sexual function, such as low desire, pain and vaginal dryness. Medical providers may selectively recommend topical estrogen creams that may address some of the menopausal symptoms that affect sexuality. Sexual health providers may recommend dilators with lubricants to prevent and treat vaginal atrophy.
- Make use of sexual fantasy material and self-pleasuring.
- Take relaxing baths. Practice breathing exercises, meditation and massage.
- Buy lingerie and clothes that feel “sexy!” The Internet has made it very easy for women to purchase fantasy material and sex toys anonymously.
- Broaden your interpretation of sex. Remember that there is more to sex than intercourse. Cuddling, kissing, elaborate foreplay, sensual massage, oral and manual stimulation can provide a way to stay connected when intercourse is not possible.
First of all, re-building one’s sexual self-schema can be challenging and it requires the skills of a trained sex therapist. In simple terms, sexual self-schema is your perception of yourself as a sexual being. When one’s body is altered drastically through surgery like a lumpectomy and mastectomy or through hormonal therapies, one’s sexual self-schema is altered.
Secondly, the role of partners in supporting women through this journey toward sexual (re) adjustment is a very important one. Self-image plays a very important role in reclaiming one’s sexuality. Partners need to find ways to make the woman feel attractive and sexy with verbal and non-verbal acknowledgements. It is important for both partners to re-conceptualize sexual behavior. I often ask couples to recall their teenage years when “making-out” was so much fun!
Watch Denise McCrossin’s take on how she found her groove after breast cancer treatment. Her husband expresses that beauty is something that comes from within and despite the intimacy changes that impacted their marriage, Denise remained the most beautiful woman in his eyes.
Be sure to read Sabitha’s follow-up blog that will highlight single women. She will offer advice to them when seeking their sexuality after breast cancer treatment. Are you willing to share your personal experience on this topic? Start posting to our Sex and Intimacy message board!