How having breast cancer can affect a woman’s sexuality

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This year, approximately 11,000 women under the age of 40 will be diagnosed with breast cancer. While it is heart-wrenching to think about dealing with breast cancer at any age, young survivors of breast cancer are often affected by breast cancer treatments in unique ways that are rarely discussed openly.

For one, certain treatments can send a woman into early menopause. This is important for women to talk with their healthcare providers about before they begin treatment, as some treatments can be modified in ways that increase the chances of a woman being able to conceive after treatment is complete.

Treatments for breast cancer can also greatly affect a woman’s sex life (at any age) – lumpectomy and mastectomy can affect a women’s body image whereas chemotherapy can cause vaginal dryness or pain. A woman’s ease of orgasm, as well as her arousal and desire, may be affected too.

Many healthcare providers don’t talk to women about the potential for these treatments to affect their sex lives, which can leave women and their partners feeling frustrated about how to re-connect or be intimate with each other in pleasurable ways. Fortunately, some women-friendly businesses are paving the way to help breast cancer survivors with their sexuality concerns:

• The Young Survival Coalition focuses on concerns that are unique to young survivors of breast cancer, including issues related to fertility; they also hold an annual conference that has included focused sessions on sexuality issues

• In-home sex toy party company Pure Romance has, for several years, been running parties specifically for breast cancer survivors under the Sensuality, Sexuality, Survival! Program. They even revised their product line to be responsive to chemical sensitivities of some survivors.

• Living Beyond Breast Cancer: A Survivor’s Guide for When Treatment Ends and the Rest of Your Life Begins addresses a range of concerns including those related to relationships, intimacy and body image

• A Woman’s Touch (a woman-owned sex toy shop in Milwaukee and in Madison) offers workshops for groups interested in cancer-related sexuality issues. To arrange a private workshop, call them at 1.888.621.8880

Next week, I’ll highlight some specific strategies that survivors can use to address sexual problems – and that many other women might find helps to make their sex lives better, too.

[Originally published in my weekly column at CheekyChicago.com]

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at www.sexualhealth.indiana.edu.