Sexuality and Intimacy
Watch our MBC Impact Series webinar on metastatic breast cancer and sexual health. Although this webinar was created for women who have metastatic breast cancer, it has helpful information for women with any stage of breast cancer. We encourage all to watch.
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 [148-149].
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 [122,148].
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.
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 provider (such as a clinical social worker, psychologist or sex therapist) or a counselor. They 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 health care providers specialize in the treatment of sexual problems 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 about your sexual and intimate relationship is important.
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. If you’re uncomfortable or unsure about how to have these conversations, a health care provider trained in sexual health concerns can offer support.
Susan G. Komen® Support Resources
Other ways to improve sexuality
For breast cancer survivors, exercise may help [122-123,141,150]:
- Improve sexuality
- Improve body image
- Reduce anxiety and stress
- Reduce distress and depression
Learn about exercise and breast cancer survival.
Pelvic floor exercises
Pelvic floor exercises can help strengthen the muscles around the vagina and improve muscle flexibility . These exercises combined with regular use of a vaginal moisturizer and use of a lubricant as needed may help with urinary and vaginal symptoms in breast cancer survivors.
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 [83,86}:
- Improve sexual functioning
- Increase sexual arousal and desire
- Increase vaginal lubrication
- Decrease discomfort during intercourse
Not all mental health providers 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 [77,148-149]. 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
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 of any age 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 for young women diagnosed with breast cancer.
Learn more about social support for spouses, partners and other family members.
Learn more about social support for children.
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.