The intimacy of breast cancer.

Ask any heterosexual  boy or girl what their first  consensual sexual touch was and it will be breast touch. Actually kissing is where people begin but this is not recognised as being “sex” although it really is very sexual. Breasts are the first sign of puberty , the flagging  that this girl is becoming a woman. And becoming a woman means being sexual . From get go breasts are  primarily associated with sexuality and secondarily , with breast feeding and motherhood. Before Instagram there was Scope and Playboy,  and online porn has taken the accessibility  of breast viewing to heights never experienced before. We love breasts!

In transmen breasts are met with distress and binding.,  in some  cisgender women the idea of becoming  a woman , i.e. a sexual woman , is so distressing that anorexia/bulimia is used as a weapon against womanhood and sexuality. But in the majority of cisgendered females, breasts  are what they wear with great deliberation and consideration. They dress them up in bras, corsets and nipple jewels. They cut and slash them in the name of beauty. They surgically implant silicone bags  into them to make them larger . They know men are fascinated and enchanted with their breasts.

Finding a lump in your breast is a traumatic event. Suddenly these treasured breasts by necessity enter the hands of the medical world, and pride and pleasure are replaced with extreme fear and shame.   70 percent of breast cancer survivors have sexual dysfunctions that persist well beyond the first year of treatment and may worsen over time. Read my previous blog to learn about sexual changes that occur as a direct result of breast cancer.

What I am interested in discussing is what impact breast cancer and the consequent sexual changes , have had on your intimate relationship/s?

  • Has it brought you closer ?
  • Perhaps you were experiencing relationship and /or sexual difficulties before diagnosis. Has cancer exacerbated these difficulties ?
  • Have you found that the losses, exhaustion of  lengthy treatments and side effects are so consuming that they leave little space and time for your intimate relationships?
  • As a partner of  a breast cancer survivor, how has it affected your intimate relationship?
  • How have the sexual changes affected your relationship?
  • If you are a single woman, how has this affected your dating ?
  • At what point do you disclose to a partner /date that you have had a mastectomy or a lumpectomy?

Being  a partner of someone with breast cancer elicits feelings of shock, anger, fear, anxiety and acceptance . You want to be involved and supportive. It takes  its toll.  There are few places where you can talk about your feelings. Rightly all attention is placed on your partner so it can feel lonely and alienating . Suddenly you are needed to become a caretaker . This may feel like a reversal of roles as  pre cancer your woman was the primary caretaker in the relationship.  And then there is the financial strain . You may be forced to  work longer hours, and  find creative solutions to the added financial burden that cancer unexpectedly brings in to a relationship.

And then then there  is the breast/ breasts that are no longer there. For you as a breast cancer survivor, mourning the loss of your breast/s and adjusting to your newly constructive breast/s , may depress and distract you emotionally  from  a partner. And as a partner, you may fear touching her breast/s for fear of hurting her . Your feelings of protectiveness kick in which may well override feelings of sexuality.

Chemotherapy – induced  menopause , scarring , weight gain, difference in size of the treated breast due to lumpectomy or /and radiation , loss of hair, make women want to hide in shame and silence. She may be desperate for physical , even sexual, connection but is afraid of rejection due to her changed body image. Or the trauma may shut her down and detach emotionally from her partner.

And then there is the sexual dysfunctions : loss of libido, dry vagina, painful intercourse,

African couple having relationship problems, Cape Town, South Africa

Breast cancer is not good for relationships. However good relationships can become stronger and more intimate through travelling through this trauma together. Research suggests that women are more likely than men to be victims of what’s known as partner abandonment… even worse, emotional detachment. In other words, men take flight more than women do , in times of illness.

Intimacy guidelines for breast cancer survivors & their partners :

  1. Accept feelings of  anger, resentment , sadness , fear and powerlessness that initially overwhelms each one of you as individuals and as a couple.
  2. Talking intimately may be new for both of you. This is the perfect time to enter couple therapy. The relationship needs professional support and help.
  3. As  a partner , get your own individual support. Because so much needed attention is on your woman, you need a safe place to express your painful confused  emotions.
  4. Sexuality will once again be part of your relationship . Prepare yourselves for this time by maintaining intimate touching and talking . This keeps you both aware of your individual  sexual parts that may lie dormant for awhile yet.
  5. Masturbation  is healing and erotic. No need to feel guilty about it.
  6. Vaginal moisturiser is essential so get a bottle of Liquid Silk from my store
  7.  A clitoral vibrator may be the beginning of a sexual awakening . Have one handy.
  8. Ensure you have support so you as the partner is not fully responsible for all care giving.
  9. As a single woman, bare your chest when you feel safe and secure within yourself .

For more information on breast cancer and intimacy, contact me .