Breast cancer can affect your sense of sexual wellbeing, which can then affect your intimate relationships. While some women experience positive changes to their sexual wellbeing after breast cancer, many find the opposite.
Sexual wellbeing is a complicated and personal issue and there is no right or wrong way to feel about it.
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.
Some women experience physical changes such as weight gain, hot flushes and fatigue. Others experience emotional changes like loss of confidence or depression. These affect how we see ourselves.
Treatments such as chemotherapy and some hormone therapies can cause vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex. Some women also tell us that because of their treatment and changed hormone levels, they no longer have the energy or desire for sex. Many women experience a combination of these issues.
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
Whatever you experience, it’s important to know that this is quite normal and that there are things you can try to help manage the effects of breast cancer on your sexual wellbeing.
BCNA information booklet
If you are experiencing changes to your sexual wellbeing and sexual relationships, you might find our Breast cancer and sexual wellbeing booklet helpful.
It’s a great resource for identifying the issues that may affect you during and after treatment. We developed the booklet based on feedback from women with breast cancer and health professionals. It suggests practical strategies that may help you to:
- feel more attractive and confident
- build emotional and physical intimacy with your partner
- develop a new relationship
- deal with the loss of sexual desire
- understand the physical symptoms of menopause, including vaginal dryness and hot flushes
- talk to health professionals about your sexual wellbeing concerns
- find further information and support about sexual wellbeing.
You can download or order a copy of the booklet from our fact sheets and booklets page, or by calling 1800 500 258.
Managing your concerns
If you have concerns about your sexual wellbeing, it is a good idea to talk to your GP or breast care nurse. She or he may be able to suggest things that could help you, or recommend other health professionals who can help, such as a sex therapist, psychologist or counsellor. It may also be helpful for you to read more about how to find a sexual wellbeing expert.
Relationships with partners
Managing your relationship with your partner can be difficult, and intimate relationships can be especially difficult if your treatment has affected your sexual function.
It is important thing to remember that your feelings and responses are normal and appropriate. There is no one way that you are ‘supposed to feel’.
Here are some tips to help you manage your intimate relationship with your partner:
- Talk openly with your partner. If you are sad about the changes that are happening to your sex life, say so.
- Be open about your needs. If what you need is a cuddle or a massage, but not sex, tell your partner that.
- If you do want sex, be clear about what you do and don't want. For example, you may not want your breasts touched.
- Continuing a loving and supportive relationship with your partner will help your sexual relationship return when you are feeling better.
Do you want to talk to someone?
The Cancer Council Victoria provides a free telephone counselling service for Victorians affected by cancer who have intimacy and relationship concerns. If you live outside Victoria, Cancer Council Victoria can refer you to counselling services in your state.
To set up a free telephone counselling session, phone the Cancer Council on 13 11 20.