6 Things Nobody Tells You About Sex During (& After!) Breast Cancer

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sex after breast cancer

It's about so much more than just the sex.

By Debby Herbenick, PhD

Despite the explosion of "pink" awareness, one aspect of breast cancer remains taboo: its impact on a couple's sex life.

Although men are sometimes diagnosed with the disease, it mostly "happens" to women's breasts, body parts that remain closely connected to sexuality, no matter how messages are spun ("They're just another body part!" "They provide food for babies!").

It took decades of work by brave women and men to bring breast cancer into mainstream conversation, media, shopping malls — even football fields. And much of this success can probably be attributed to a strategy that necessitated, in a sex-phobic American culture, that breast cancer be desexualized in order to be discussed in "polite company."

I don't fault breast-cancer activists for this; it worked. Being able to talk about the disease openly has meant greater visibility, fundraising, and activism, and thus earlier detection and more treatment options — all of which translates into more survivors. There are about 2.5 million breast-cancer survivors living in the U.S. alone. The Daily Beast: Sexy Breast Cancer Ads: Provocative Or Patronizing?

And yet, to ensure that women not only survive but enjoy happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives, I think it's about time we bring sex into the conversation. True, sex is now frequently used to provocatively garner attention for the disease, or for laughs (think: Save the Ta-Tas, I Love Boobies, Save Second Base, or Rethink Breast Cancer, with its shirtless men) — but these campaigns hardly count as earnest discussion. Here's why we need it. 

We’re in the dark. 

Perhaps the most surprising finding about sexuality and breast cancer is this: we know next to nothing about helping breast-cancer patients and survivors overcome sexual difficulties. A recent articlein Breast Cancer Research and Treatment was meant to review all the studies on sex-related interventions for breast-cancer treatments. It found only 21 studies that had evaluated interventions for the sexual difficulties of patients and survivors. Only 21!

And yet I wasn’t shocked: when my research team conducted a study on young survivors’ sex lives, published in Cancer Nursing in 2006, I was struck by the broken record of studies that all said the same thing—essentially, “breast-cancer survivors face sexual problems.” (See here and here.) And almost no research explored any solutions to these problems. Our study, in which we assessed specific strategies women were interested in to address their sexual difficulties, was among the first of its kind—and even it, I’m sorry to say, didn’t provide an “answer.”


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For more on breast cancer and sex from Debby Herbenick, PhD, head over to The Daily Beast.

This article was originally published at The Daily Beast. Reprinted with permission from the author.