While some women experience positive changes to their sexual wellbeing or sexual relationship after breast cancer, for others breast cancer can have the opposite effect.
"I love my husband very much and our relationship is good but my physical body does not respond like it used to." -- Woman, 51 years
Sexual wellbeing is a complex and personal issue. Some women may experience physical changes such as fatigue, hot flushes or weight gain, while other women experience emotional changes such as depression, or not feeling confident about their body. We know that for many women vaginal dryness can also be an issue due the effects of chemotherapy or hormonal therapies which can cause discomfort, especially during sex. Other women tell us that they often lack energy and desire for sex due to fatiguing treatments or changed hormone levels. Very often it's a combination of many of these different issues.
"Tiredness, muscles and joints aching from Arimidex, fatigue, emotional exhaustion from coping with family and friends' anxiety and being away from home for extended time have all contributed to my lack of interest in sex" -- Woman, 58 years.
It's important to know there are lots of things that you can try to help you manage the effects of breast cancer and its treatments on your sexual wellbeing.
BCNA information booklet
BCNA's Breast Cancer and Sexual Wellbeing booklet aims to help you identify the issues that may affect you during and after treatment. This booklet was developed based on feedback received from women and health professionals, and identifies strategies that may help you to manage sexual wellbeing issues commonly experienced by women.
Topics covered in the booklet include practical strategies to assist with:
- feeling more attractive and confident
- building emotional and physical intimacy with your partner
- building a new relationship
- the loss of desire
- the physical symptoms of menopause including vaginal dryness and hot flushes
- talking to health professional about sexual wellbeing concerns
- finding additional information and support about sexual wellbeing.
You can download a copy of the booklet from our fact sheets and booklets page, or order a free copy through our online store or by calling 1800 500 258. The booklet will also be available through Relationships Australia's 200+ services around the country.
Managing your concerns
If you do have sexual wellbeing concerns, it can also be beneficial to discuss these with your GP or breast care nurse. They may be able to suggest things you can try and tell you what has worked for other women. As a starting point you may want to get in touch with your GP or breast care nurse. They may also be able to recommend a counsellor, sex therapist or psychologist who can provide further support. You may also like to read more about how to find a sexual wellbeing expert.
Dr Sandra Pertot, a clinical psychologist and sex therapist, spoke to The Beacon in March 2010 about sexual wellbeing issues for women with breast cancer. She told us that many women experience sexual wellbeing changes and that it's important to accept that the feelings and responses you experience are normal and are appropriate for you.
In The Beacon article, Dr Pertot, also gave some tips on managing relationships with partners:
- Talk to your partner about how you are both feeling - if you are sad about losing your sex drive and the sex life you once had together, tell him so.
- Tell your partner if what you need is affection, such as a hug, cuddle or massage, but not sex.
- If you do want sex, be clear about what you do and don't want -- you may not want your breasts touched, for example.
- Maintaining a loving and supportive relationship with your partner will help your sexual relationship return when you are feeling better.
You can read the full interview with Dr Pertot, which also includes advice for single women, on page 2 of The Beacon Issue 50 (Autumn 2010).
- Read our Body image page
- Read The Beacon Issue 50 (Autumn 2010), which includes articles and women's personal stories about sexuality and body image
- Read The Beacon Issue 44 (Spring 2008), which includes articles and women's personal stories about relationships
- Download BCNA's resources list on sexuality and intimacy (The Beacon Issue 50)
- Download BCNA's resources list on sexuality and breast cancer (The Beacon Issue 44)
- Download a copy of BCNA's Breast Cancer and Sexual Wellbeing information booklet from our fact sheets and booklets page
- Download a summary of the results of BCNA's research into sexual wellbeing entitled Sexual Wellbeing and Breast Cancer in Australia.
- Download the 'The Last Taboo' article in Pink Magazine 2011 below
(copyright ACP Magazines and National Breast Cancer Foundation)