Intimate life after mastectomy: how to embrace your body and your sexuality
Let's talk about something that is rarely discussed: intimate life after mastectomy. It's no secret that breast cancer and its treatments can have a serious impact on your body and mind. And unfortunately, your sex life is often the first to feel the effects. But don't worry, you're not alone in this - plenty of survivors face the same struggle. According to studies, over 73% of cancer survivors are at risk of experiencing sexual problems, otherwise known as sexual dysfunction.
For many women, breasts represent their femininity and sexual identity. So when breast cancer strikes, it can leave a woman feeling not just physically different but emotionally and sexually vulnerable as well. It can be a difficult and emotional journey for both the patient and her partner. However, with the right mindset and open communication, intimacy and pleasure can still be a part of your life after a mastectomy.
In this article, we'll discuss ways to navigate the emotional and physical challenges that come with mastectomy, and how to get back to a healthy and satisfying sex life. So, let's dive right in!
Impact Of Mastectomy On Women
A mastectomy is a surgical procedure that involves removing one or both breasts, usually due to breast cancer. As you can imagine, this kind of procedure can have a huge impact on a woman's life in a lot of different ways.
One big impact of mastectomy is on a woman's physical appearance, which can definitely affect how she feels about herself. Some women opt to get breast reconstruction surgery to try to restore the look of their breasts, but this isn't always possible or something every woman wants to do.
When you're dealing with something as serious as breast cancer, sex is probably the last thing on your mind. The focus is on treatment, recovery, and survival. However, as you go through the process, you may notice changes in your body, your mood, and your libido that can impact your sex life and your relationship with your partner.
After the surgery, women might experience discomfort or pain during sex, which can make it harder to feel good or want to be intimate. This can be because of scars or nerve damage from the surgery, or just because of the changes in a woman's body and how she sees herself.
Hormonal changes caused by the treatment can lead to mood swings, fatigue, and other symptoms that can affect a woman's desire for sex.
This can be frustrating for both partners. Moreover, it’s natural for women to feel self-conscious or insecure about their bodies after a mastectomy, which makes it even harder to feel comfortable or enjoy sex.
- Mental and Emotional
For many women, their breasts are a significant part of their identity, and losing them can be a huge blow to their self-esteem. They may feel like they've lost a part of themselves, which can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, and even a sense of grief. On top of that, many women worry about their appearance after a mastectomy.
They may feel self-conscious about their scars or worry that they won't be attractive anymore. These feelings can be especially challenging if they were already struggling with body image issues before the surgery.
Thus, a mastectomy can trigger a range of emotions, including fear, anger, and sadness. They may feel angry that they had to go through this experience, scared about what the future holds, and sad about the loss of their breasts. It's a lot to process, and it can take time to work through these emotions.
Overall, mastectomy can be a pretty big deal, but it's important to remember that there are ways to cope and get support. Taking care of both your emotional and physical health is really important, and reaching out to people you love and trust, as well as healthcare professionals, can be super helpful.
Communicating With Your Partner
Now, let's talk about communicating with your partner after a mastectomy. You and your partner need to be on the same page for a healthy sex life, and that requires open and honest communication. When it comes to talking about your body image and sexual concerns with your partner, the most important thing is honesty. Don't be afraid to tell them how you feel or what you need from them. It can be challenging to open up about your insecurities, but your partner can offer you support and reassurance.
You might be surprised at how understanding and supportive they can be. Remember that your partner loves you for who you are, not just how you look.
It's also essential to keep in mind that your sexual needs might have changed since your mastectomy. You may have physical limitations or discomfort that you didn't have before. It's crucial to communicate these concerns with your partner so that you can find new ways to connect sexually.
It's possible that you'll need to adjust your sexual routine to accommodate your physical changes, but that doesn't mean that you can't enjoy intimacy with your partner.
Sex isn't just about penetration. There are plenty of ways to be intimate with your partner, such as kissing, hugging, or touching. You might even discover new things that you both enjoy. The point is to stay open-minded and communicate with your partner about what feels good and what doesn't.
Here are some tips for partners to be supportive and understanding:
- Show Empathy and Understanding
It's crucial to acknowledge that your partner's experience after a mastectomy is unique to them. Be open and empathetic in your communication, and try to understand what they are going through. This can involve listening to them without judgment and showing support in different ways such as physical comfort, such as holding hands, hugging or sitting together, and emotional support such as active listening, encouraging and reassuring them, and using supportive and compassionate language.
- Be Sensitive and Respectful
After a mastectomy, it's common for people to feel insecure about their body. So, be sensitive and respectful when communicating with your partner about their body image. Avoid making comments that may come off as insensitive or hurtful.
- Be Patient
Be patient with your partner as they navigate through this life-altering experience. After the surgery, it's normal for your partner to experience physical pain and emotional distress due to changes in their body, including swelling, scars, and weight fluctuations. As a partner, you have to encourage them to take their time and reassure them that you will be there throughout the process.
- Be Honest
Open and honest communication is the foundation of any relationship, and it's even more critical after a mastectomy. Your partner may have different fears, concerns, or questions that they want to discuss with you. Encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings with you, and be open to listening and responding to their concerns. Avoid assuming that you know how they feel, and instead, ask them how they are doing.
- Support Your Partner in Their Recovery
After a mastectomy, your partner will need your support as they recover. This may involve assisting them with getting dressed, cooking, and cleaning. It can also mean supporting them emotionally by providing encouragement, being present, and engaging in activities that help to boost their morale.
Ways To Boost Intimacy After Mastectomy
Here are some simple ways to improve your sex life after a mastectomy:
- Rediscovering Intimacy
Before diving into sexual activities, it's crucial to take some time to reconnect with your body and rediscover intimacy with yourself. You can try different forms of self-touch, such as massage, meditation, or yoga. And if you're not feeling it at first, don't worry, take things slow, and be patient with yourself.
- Exploring New Ways Of Intimacy
Mastectomy can be an opportunity to explore new ways of intimacy with your partner. You can try experimenting with different types of touch, like kissing, hugging, or holding hands. You can also explore different positions and techniques that feel comfortable for you.
- Finding Pleasure In Non-Genital Areas
If you're not comfortable with genital stimulation after a mastectomy, there are still plenty of ways to experience pleasure. You can explore erogenous zones in non-genital areas, such as the neck, ears, or inner thighs. And you can also try using different senses (aka sensory play) to enhance your experience, like taste, smell, or touch.
- Focus on Foreplay
Foreplay is essential for boosting intimacy. Take your time and explore different sensations, focusing on what feels good for you and your partner. Try new things and communicate with your partner about what feels good and pleasurable.
- Use Sex Toys And Aids
Sex toys and aids can be an excellent way to enhance your sexual experience post-mastectomy. For example, vibrators can be used to stimulate erogenous zones and enhance arousal. And there are also many aids available, such as prostheses or breast forms, that can help you feel more comfortable and confident during sex.
- Wearing Lingerie
Wearing lingerie can give you confidence and make you feel more attractive and desirable. You can choose lingerie that covers or highlights your scars, depending on your comfort level. Be creative and experiment with different styles and colors to find something that makes you feel confident and sexy.
Importance Of Seeking Professional Help
Seek professional help if you're experiencing sexual difficulties after mastectomy. Sexual difficulties can manifest in many ways, including pain during sex, loss of libido, difficulty achieving orgasm, and vaginal dryness. These issues can cause significant emotional distress and can lead to a strain on your relationship with your partner.
The Role Of Therapy In Addressing Sexual Concerns
Therapy can be an effective way to address sexual concerns after mastectomy. A qualified therapist can help you explore your feelings and emotions surrounding your mastectomy, improve communication with your partner, and help you develop strategies to overcome any physical or emotional obstacles that may be interfering with your sexual relationship.
Therapy can also help you learn new ways to achieve sexual pleasure that may be different from what you were used to before your mastectomy. It's essential to remember that there is no one right way to have sex, and a good therapist will help you find what works for you and your partner.
The Benefits Of Seeking Advice From Healthcare Professionals
Healthcare professionals can offer advice and guidance on ways to enhance intimacy after mastectomy. Your doctor may recommend medications to help with vaginal dryness, for example, or suggest exercises to improve flexibility and strength in the pelvic floor muscles.
You may also want to consider seeing a sex therapist, who specializes in helping couples overcome sexual issues. A sex therapist can help you and your partner communicate more effectively, learn new ways to explore intimacy, and develop coping strategies to deal with any physical or emotional challenges that may arise.
A mastectomy can be hard on romantic partnerships, as intimacy and physical touch may feel different or uncomfortable. Women may worry that their partner won't find them attractive anymore or that they won't be able to enjoy physical intimacy like they used to. This can create a sense of distance and strain on the relationship. Mastectomy can be a challenging experience, but it doesn't have to mean the end of intimacy.
It's natural to feel like your body has been altered and that your femininity has been taken away. But it's important to remember that you are still the same person, and that your beauty and strength come from within.
So, embrace your body after mastectomy and be proud of your scars. These scars are a testament to your strength and bravery, and they show the world that you have overcome great trouble. Seeking support from your partner, friends, or healthcare professionals can be a great way to explore your feelings and find solutions that work for you.
So, to all the women out there who have undergone mastectomy: you are strong, beautiful, and worthy of love and sexual pleasure!