Relationships and sexuality

The anxiety and/or depression felt by some women after diagnosis or treatment can affect their sexual desire. Sometimes, women feel that they are less sexually attractive. Tiredness following an anaesthetic, major surgery, radiation treatment, or chemotherapy will also reduce sexual desire.

If you have had a mastectomy, looking at yourself in the mirror can be difficult. Sometimes women feel nervous about showing their mastectomy scar to their partners.

It helps if you are able to talk openly about your feelings so that your partner understands your fears and concerns. However, sometimes partners may be unsure of their own reactions to the breast surgery. While many partners are a great support and may adjust more quickly to the changes than you do, others have greater difficulty. They may also feel nervous about their sexual relationship with you.

If you are without a partner you may fear you may not be able to have an intimate relationship in the future. You may question how and when you will tell a new partner about your treatment.

While some women may quickly begin their usual pattern of love making, for others it may take longer. If you and your partner need to make changes, it’s important to remember that sexual intercourse is only one of the ways that you can express affection for each other. Communicating and sharing your feelings can result in greater openness, sensitivity, and physical closeness between you both. A gesture of affection, gentle touches, cuddling, and fondling also set your mind at rest about your need for each other.

When you feel ready for intercourse, you may find some positions more comfortable. If you are on top or on your side, there may be less pressure on the affected side. If sexual intercourse is painful because of vaginal dryness, special creams, such as Sylk, or Replens may be useful.

Talk to someone you trust if you are experiencing ongoing problems with sexual relationships. Friends, family members, nurses, or your doctor may be able to help. The Cancer Society can also provide information about counsellors who specialise in this area. You may find the Cancer Society’s booklet Sexuality and Cancer/Hōkakatanga me te Matepukupuku helpful. You can get a copy from your local Cancer Society, by phoning the cancer information nurses on the Cancer Information Helpline 0800 CANCER (226 237), or by downloading it from our website.