How does your sex life change during treatment, or after a mastectomy?
One reason breast cancer is so traumatic is because its impact on a woman’s sense of femininity and self-image. A 2016 study in Journal of Breast Health found that women most commonly associated their breasts with femininity, beauty, and motherhood, and after a mastectomy many said that they felt like they were missing half of themselves.
It’s not surprising that many participants also noted their relationships with their partners had also changed during and after breast cancer treatment. Here, seven women interviewed by HealthiNation describe how their body image and sex lives changed—and in some cases, for the better.
“I wanted sex more than ever”
“I didn’t have as much sex as I had until the year I was diagnosed because I was so afraid that I was going to feel so sick that I wanted to have as much pleasure as I could. And yes, sex after breast cancer is taboo. There are doctors that will not talk about it.”
—Christine, diagnosed at 42
Doctors might not address it
“My doctors didn’t really get into sex life and how it would be after surgery and after my treatment. Going into the shower for the first time—I sat and cried.”
—Alyssa, diagnosed at 23
Not getting answers? Get new doctors
“Knowledge is power, and if you don’t feel that your doctors are answering the questions that you need, then you either need to get new doctors or do some research or speak to people who’ve had it done.”
—Nicole, diagnosed at 36
You’ll want to avoid the mirrors
“I remember thinking through, like, ‘I’m going to have to get into the shower and sort of face this way so I don’t see the mirror in my bathroom because who wants to look at scars?’”
—Sally, diagnosed at 40
It takes a special love
“There was a reason that my marriage fell away. Being newly married, when you are in a chemo-induced menopause...you feel inadequate. Giving yourself to your husband or your partner is a difficult thing. It’s very challenging, and it takes a special person and a special love to look past that.”
—Theresa, diagnosed at 44
Something to explore
“The first time I saw the scars was hard. It doesn’t feel like your body. You can lose the erogenous areas of your body, and that’s a real thing. It’s real for you, it’s real for your partner, it’s something to explore. It’s not an end. It’s just a new exploration.”
—Lisa, diagnosed at 46
Your new body is an adjustment
“This is not my body. This is not what I was hoping for. I gained weight from chemo, so I’m heavier and I don’t have my actual boobs. I don’t have nipples. I have scars all over my chest.”
—Rosanna, diagnosed at 31
Make your partner feel included
“They love you and they don’t know what to do. Make them a part of it and make them feel included, and I think that is a healthy way to move forward.”
—Theresa, diagnosed at 40
A very special thanks to Susan G. Komen Greater New York City.
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I didn't have as much as sex as I
had until the year I was diagnosed.
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Because I was so
afraid that I was going to feel so sick,
00:15.860 --> 00:20.579
that I wanted to have as
much pleasure as I could.
00:20.579 --> 00:27.913
00:27.913 --> 00:31.542
And yes, sex after breast cancer is taboo.
00:31.542 --> 00:35.858
There are doctors that
will not talk about it.
00:35.858 --> 00:38.905
My doctors didn't really
get into sex life and
00:38.905 --> 00:43.230
how it would be after my surgery,
and after treatment.
00:43.230 --> 00:47.830
Knowledge is power, and if you don't
feel like your doctors are answering
00:47.830 --> 00:52.070
the questions that you need, then you
either need to get new doctors, or
00:52.070 --> 00:55.070
do some research or
speak to people who've had it done.
00:55.070 --> 00:57.260
I have so many people come to me now.
00:57.260 --> 01:01.990
I mean going into the shower for
the first time, I sat and cried.
01:01.990 --> 01:06.220
I remember thinking through well like
I'm gonna have to get into the shower and
01:06.220 --> 01:07.610
sort of face this way so
01:07.610 --> 01:12.502
I don't see the mirror in my bathroom,
right, because who wants to look at scars.
01:12.502 --> 01:16.945
There was a reason that my
marriage fell away being newly
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married when you are in
a chemo-induced menopause.
01:21.210 --> 01:27.520
The changes aside from the visual changes
that you see when you look in the mirror.
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You feel inadequate and
giving yourself to your husband or
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your partner is a difficult thing.
01:34.940 --> 01:40.080
It's very challenging and
it takes a special person and
01:40.080 --> 01:44.380
a special love to look past that.
01:44.380 --> 01:49.630
The first time I saw
the scars was hard.
01:51.060 --> 01:53.169
It doesn't feel like it's your body.
01:54.180 --> 01:55.280
This is not my body.
01:55.280 --> 01:57.873
This is not what I was hoping for.
01:57.873 --> 02:03.260
I gained weight from chemo, so I am
heavier and I don't have my actual boobs.
02:03.260 --> 02:04.420
I don't have nipples.
02:04.420 --> 02:07.020
I have scars all over my chest.
02:07.020 --> 02:13.020
You can lose the androgynous areas
of your body, and that's a real thing.
02:13.020 --> 02:14.460
And it's real for you.
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It's real for your partner.
02:16.040 --> 02:18.500
It's something to explore.
02:18.500 --> 02:21.130
They love you, and
they don't know what to do.
02:21.130 --> 02:25.200
Make them a part of it, and
make them feel included.
02:25.200 --> 02:28.580
And I think that is a healthy
way to move forward.
02:28.580 --> 02:29.823
It's not an end.
02:29.823 --> 02:31.962
It's just a new exploration.
02:31.962 --> 02:41.149
Body image and sexuality after breast cancer. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2017. (Accessed on September 29, 2017 at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/living-as-a-breast-cancer-survivor/body-image-and-sexuality-after-breast-cancer.html.)
Kocan S, Gursoy A. Body image of women with breast cancer after mastectomy: A qualitative research. J Breast Health. 2016 Oct;14(4):145-50.