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How Breast Cancer Really Affects Your Sex Life

Sexual side effects during or after breast cancer are common – and they are not that pleasant to deal with. And when you are ready, it’s something you can do with your partner.

Here, sexual health experts discuss some common ways breast cancer can affect your sex life and what you can do about it. Consider this the first step to regaining your sexuality.

Why do I experience sexual side effects with breast cancer?

These can be side effects of the treatment. ‘Many of the treatments we use [hormone receptor-positive] Breast cancer puts menopause on women or exacerbates menopausal symptoms if they have already had them, ”says Sharon Bober, PhD, director of the sexual health program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

This is because these treatments block estrogen, leading to:

  • Vaginal dryness
  • Loss of libido
  • Muted pleasure
  • Pain during sex

If you experience sexual side effects that interfere with intimacy, you need to communicate openly with your partner. ‘If you’ve never had to talk about your sex life before, you may not be sure how to start the conversation. Take the time and say to your partner, ‘I know things are not as they used to be. Can we find time to talk about it? ‘”Says Bober.

Determine what challenges you want to tackle, and look at them from a whole body perspective, she says.

Why do I experience vaginal dryness, and what can I do about it?

Vaginal dryness and discomfort are common in women undergoing estrogen-inhibiting treatments, says Kristen Carpenter, PhD, director of Women’s Behavioral Health at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Decreased estrogen levels impair the vaginal lubrication that occurs when you are sexually aroused, plus vaginal tissue loses volume, becomes more delicate and less elastic.

To minimize discomfort, Carpenter recommends using a non-hormonal vaginal moisturizer for regular maintenance, along with a lubricant during sexual activity (both are available over the counter). In other words, lubricate for a healthy flow of fluids.

If this combination does not make the effort, a local estrogen cream can be helpful, Bober says. ‘For vaginal dryness we know that vaginal estrogen and vaginal DHEA are very effective. These are medications that you can talk to your oncologist or gynecologist about, which are often used after breast cancer, ”says Bober.

What can I do about pain that cannot be easily resolved?

Be open with your sexual pain care team that is not resolved with the use of a vaginal lubricant and moisturizer. If you are experiencing pain as a result of surgery or cancer treatment, physical therapy of the pelvic floor is regularly recommended. It should be an important part of any breast cancer survivors’ care plan, says Heather Jeffcoat, DPT, president of the Academy of Pelvic Health Physical Therapy.

You can also try these tips from the American Cancer Society:

  • If sex hurts, it can help slow it down.
  • Try new positions so that the penetration is less deep.
  • If your muscles contract during sex, a pelvic floor therapist can teach you relaxation techniques and suggest a dilator to stretch the vagina, as well as Kegel exercises.
  • For pain that occurs elsewhere, such as your lower back or hips, try to support the area with pillows and focus on pleasure.

Is it possible to revive a low libido?

If you’m tired and sore, it’s no surprise that it’s really hard to summon the desire for sex, so Carpenter suggests planning time for sexual contact to make it part of a normal routine.

Give yourself time to re-learn about your body and what it wants and needs now. ‘When patients complain of low libido, we make sure that sexual contact is pleasant and satisfying for them. We work to understand the patient how she wants to be touched and to re-learn her body as it has changed. We are working on communication skills so that they can pass on this new information to their partner. In this way, it is rewarding and satisfying when sexual cases occur, ”says Carpenter.

How can I learn to love my new body?

‘Many women who experience breast cancer leave feeling that their body has betrayed them. They see the effects of their cancer every day when they look in the mirror, whether they have had a lumpectomy, whether they have had a mastectomy and whether or not they have had a reconstruction. There will be clear memories of the experience, even long after the surgical recovery, ”says Carpenter.

If you feel uncomfortable in your new body, Carpenter recommends doing things that made you feel good before cancer, such as getting flattering clothes, makeup, hair and nails done and starting over. your exercise regimen.

And there is even more support for you on the road to sexual health if you feel you need it. Contact your medical team or consider joining a support group, such as the American Cancer Society Reach to Recovery Program.

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