Sexuality and Intimacy
If you’re struggling with issues affecting your sexuality, you’re not alone. Sex and intimacy can be difficult for many women after a breast cancer diagnosis [138-139].
Although a serious illness in either partner can disrupt a sexual and intimate relationship, breast cancer can cause unique problems.
You may feel your body has betrayed you. And, after months of treatment, you may feel detached or disconnected from the pleasure your body once gave you.
Body image issues may also affect how you view sex, as well as your sexuality. Anxiety and depression may also impact your sexuality .
Learn about ways to cope with anxiety and distress.
Side effects of treatment
Some side effects of breast cancer treatment can impact your sex life.
For example, hormone therapy may cause a loss of desire as well as vaginal changes that can make sex painful.
Learn about ways to treat vaginal changes and other menopausal symptoms.
Getting help from a health care provider
Problems that affect sexuality and intimacy can increase over time, so it’s important to address them early.
Talk with your health care provider, a mental health care provider (such as a social worker, psychologist or sex therapist) or a counselor. These health care providers can often offer treatment and support services.
For example, your health care provider can treat many physical symptoms affecting your sexuality or your sex life.
Some providers specialize in the treatment of sexual problems for people who’ve had cancer.
The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists and the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health can help you find specialists who are trained in sexual health concerns for people who’ve had cancer.
A support group may help you address problems with physical intimacy.
Talking with your partner
Open communication between you and your partner is an important step in getting back your sexuality.
Partners may be confused or unsure of the best way to show support and affection. They may retreat or wait for cues from you about when to resume an intimate or sexual relationship.
Discussing each person’s fears and hopes and comforting each other can help you and your partner have a satisfying sexual relationship.
Susan G. Komen® Support Resources
Other ways to improve sexuality
For breast cancer survivors, exercise may help :
- Improve sexuality
- Improve body image
- Reduce anxiety and stress
- Reduce distress and depression
Learn about exercise and breast cancer survival.
Learn about other benefits of exercise for women who’ve had breast cancer.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a special type of mental health counseling that may also combine techniques such as relaxation therapy.
For breast cancer survivors, cognitive behavioral therapy may [77,80}:
- Improve sexual functioning
- Increase sexual arousal and desire
- Increase vaginal lubrication
- Decrease discomfort during intercourse
It may also help breast cancer survivors reduce fatigue, insomnia, fear of recurrence, anxiety and distress [5,112,116-125].
Few people are trained in cognitive behavioral therapy.
Learn more about coping with stress.
Dealing with symptoms of menopause
Chemotherapy and other breast cancer treatments can lead to early menopause.
Menopause can cause changes in the body that lessen sexual pleasure [70,138-139]. These changes include vaginal dryness and a decrease in sexual interest or desire.
There are ways for women to treat these symptoms. Some products contain hormones and others do not. Talk with your health care provider about which options are best for you.
Learn more about treating vaginal dryness and other menopausal symptoms.
Read our perspective on managing menopausal symptoms.*
Body image and sexuality for young women
Concerns about body image and sexuality can be especially hard for young breast cancer survivors [140-141]. Early menopause can cause changes that decrease sexual pleasure [70,138-139].
Talk with your health care provider about your concerns.
Learn about ways to treat menopausal symptoms.
Support for young survivors
Young breast cancer survivors can feel isolated.
Because most women with breast cancer are older, it’s easy to feel alone, even among other women who’ve had breast cancer. A support group tailored to younger women with any type of cancer may be more helpful than one for women who’ve had breast cancer.
Young women need to be able to share their thoughts and feelings with women who are at the same stage of life, and may have similar concerns about fertility and having children.
Some websites, such as the Young Survival Coalition, offer chat rooms and e-mail discussion groups for young women who’ve had cancer.
Living Beyond Breast Cancer offers telephone support from other young women who’ve had cancer (1-888-753-5222) and a series of videos for young women who’ve had breast cancer.
Learn more about social support.
Learn about unique issues for younger women who’ve had breast cancer.
Learn about having children after breast cancer treatment.
*Please note, the information provided within Komen Perspectives articles is only current as of the date of posting. Therefore, some information may be out of date.