Nothing is scarier than hearing the news that your partner has breast cancer. My husband Sam had to hear this news in 2011 when I told him I had precancerous cells in my left breast.
Understandably, he was scared, concerned, and overwhelmed. However, he was also completely supportive, even going so far as to shave his head along with my sons when I lost my hair due to chemotherapy.
Thankfully, my treatment was successful and I was able to return my life as I knew it—except even better, because cancer made me more grateful, more present, and more attune with the world around me and the life I wanted for myself.
However, many women and their partners find that they struggle to return to their sex lives after cancer. Sometimes they even feel guilty having an interest in sexual activity considering all the life-and-death stuff they are going through. Yet our desire for intimacy and sexual pleasure does not always fade just because illness rears its ugly head. In fact, sexual intimacy can help provide solace, comfort, and even pain relief during difficult times.
Here is how you can help safeguard you and your partner can safeguard your sex life during her breast cancer treatment:
- Consider her energy levels. When does your partner feel the best? Cancer treatment can make people notoriously exhausted as well as nauseated, but there might be certain times of day when she feels better than others. Don’t postpone sexual activity until the nighttime if she seems the most relaxed and comfortable in the morning. Have sex when she feels most desirable, which might not necessarily be when the sun sets.
- Be aware of her changing body. Cancer treatment can also cause her to be less lubricated. Take this into account and allow for plenty of foreplay. Use lubrication and have her talk to her doctor if sex continues to be uncomfortable, because they are prescription lubricants which can be invaluable.
- Don’t think of sex as the destination. Intimacy doesn’t have be about reaching an end goal. Instead, just be present and enjoy one another’s bodies. Enjoy the sensation and sensuality of touching one another, kissing one another, and massaging one another, even if it doesn’t lead to intercourse.
- Understand that her self-esteem might take a hit. She might struggle to feel in the mood because her self-esteem could be impacted by her treatment. Losing her hair and possibly one or both of her breasts can be very scary, even if her mastectomy makes her look whole and healed to you. On the inside, she might still be struggling with accepting her new body, so be patient and extra-loving to her during this time. Let her know that her scars make her even more beautiful and that you are even more aroused by her now that you see how strong and powerful she really is.
- Lastly, remember that is okay if you have some hesitation around sexual activity yourself. It can be hard to jump right into sexual activity with your partner after seeing her so vulnerable and after everything her body has had to go through. However, rest assured, if your doctor gives her a green light for sexual activity, it is safe and okay for you to enjoy one another sexually once again. Take things slow: If intercourse seems overwhelming, then stick to massages, warm baths, or even just making out. Just keep your affection and intimacy alive: It can help you both to decrease stress and feel connected and whole.
Laura Berman, PhD, is a world renowned sex and relationship educator and therapist; popular TV, radio and Internet host; New York Times best-selling author; and assistant clinical professor of ob-gyn and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago. Dr. Berman is a New York Times best-selling author of many books on sexual health and pleasure, a weekly columnist for the Chicago Sun Times, and host of the radio program "Uncovered with Dr. Laura Berman."