21 Oct Sex and Intimacy -Let’s Talk-
PiNK 2020 Spring Issue
Talking about sex isn’t always easy. But it could be the key to a fulfilling sexual relationship after a cancer diagnosis, as Kate Parsons explains.
It’s no surprise that being diagnosed with breast cancer is likely to affect how you feel about sex and intimacy.
Changes to how your body looks can affect your confidence and how you feel about yourself as a woman. And side effects from treatment, such as pain, discomfort or loss of sensitivity, can add to your lack of confidence.
But while things may be different than before, if you and your partner can communicate supportively, there’s no reason why your sexual relationship shouldn’t be satisfying and fulfilling for you both.
It’s normal to feel anxious about our sexual experience after your diagnosis. If you have a partner, it’s likely that they’ll be anxious too.
It can hep you both to relax to talk honestly about how you both are feeling, and discuss exactly what kinds of activity you’re comfortable with.
It’s not always easy to talk about sex. It might help to talk somewhere away from the bedroom, where you both feel comfortable.
“Cancer can mean that a couple may have withdrawn from each other emotionally to protect themselves,” says Dr. Rachel Davies, Senior Practice Consultant at Relate.
“Spend time together doing enjoyable things, relax together, remember how to laugh together and be interested in each other’s worlds. Nurturing your emotional relationship will build intimacy.”
If you were in a relationship before your diagnosis, you may worry that your partner will compare things to how they were.
How your partner responds to you sexually may be influenced to a degree by how they reacted to your breast cancer.
Some partners might not mention or initiate sex for fear of upsetting you.
While it may be difficult at first, try talking to your partner about how you feel. This might encourage them to share their own thoughts and concerns. You may find you’re making assumptions about how the other feels without realizing it.
“Some couples find revisiting the ways they’ve had sexual and sensual contact with each other from early in their relationship can be helpful when full sex feels too much,” says Rachel.
“This can be a great time for exploration and can even revitalise your sexual feelings.”
Cancer and its treatments can cause a relationship to be strained. Some people find that going through a a traumatic experience together brings them closer, but for others it highlights or worsens underlying problems in their relationship.
These changes may be difficult to talk about and it may take time to resolve them.
However, some people cannot come in terms with their partner’s breast cancer and may emotionally push them away or even reject them, temporarily or permanently.
If you’re not in a relationship right now, the thought of forming a new one the future might seem daunting.
Beginning a sexual relationship may bring on feelings of anxiety about how and when to tell someone you’ve had treatment for breast cancer.
The important thing is to discuss your diagnosis only when you feel ready and comfortable enough.
“Remember, you are in control of this information,” says Rachel. “It’s personal and private to you and you decide how much you want to say and when.”
When you feel the time is right to tell your new partner, they may be shocked at first and take a little time to adjust to this news. They may have their own anxieties and fears around cancer and what it means to them.
But a new partner may be very accepting and recognize that your experience is now part of who you are.
“Don’t presume it will affect then in the same way as you,” says Rachel. “They are obviously attracted to you and wants to be sexual with you, and they may not see any problems.
4 tips to talking to your partner
1. Be open and honest – this can avoid mixed signals and make your partner aware of your limits.
2.Talk to your partner when you are not being intimate, so you do not feel awkward or interrupted during those times.
3.If there are aspects of intimacy that you feel uncomfortable discussing in person, try emailing or texting instead.
4.Talk about the things you have been enjoying as well as those you have found difficult – this can help you both to feel encouraged and relaxed.