Sex after breast cancer
Female Identity,  Breast Cancer Surgery,  Family

Sex After Breast Cancer

The intimacy of a relationship can be deeply affected by a breast cancer diagnosis. Changes to one’s body, the psychological toll, and the physical side effects of treatment can have a significant impact on one’s sexual health and perspective. I vividly recall the moment when I had to confront these changes in my life and deal with the topic of sex after breast cancer.

Upon receiving my diagnosis and planning my treatment, I already realized that my body was about to undergo a significant transformation – one that would forever alter my perception of myself. I also knew this experience wouldn’t just impact me but also my partner. There it was, battling for my life and grappling with the uncertainty of my future, the prospect of sex seemed distant and even frivolous, but equally important to acknowledge. I remember the first time I removed the bandages from my newly flat body. I invited my husband to come and have a look. His initial reaction, likely rooted in fear was to say no (spoiler alert, he did change his mind). 

It’s common for women to experience changes in their sexual health following a breast cancer diagnosis. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and hormonal treatments can all impact your body in ways that make sex challenging. I remember the apprehension, the fear — will I be seen differently? Will I be able to have a satisfying sexual life after this? It was an emotional roller coaster that clashed with the medical battle I was fighting.

One of the first barriers to overcome was the change in my physical appearance. Losing my breasts and many months of hair loss from chemotherapy wasn’t easy. Society imposes an image of femininity, which includes breasts, hair, eyelashes and eyebrows. Being “flat” or having scars where my breasts once were felt alienating. My reflection in the mirror seemed unfamiliar. I questioned my desirability and wondered how this would affect my relationship with my partner. I won’t lie, it is still an ongoing process of acceptance for both of us. 

Communication became my lifeline. I found it crucial to express my fears and insecurities to my partner. Knowing that he understood my concerns made it feel less isolating. In opening that dialogue, I understood that intimacy wasn’t solely defined by the act of sex or my physical appearance. Emotional bonds and shared experiences, I realized, held a powerful role in fostering intimacy.

A crucial part of my journey was to redefine intimacy and sexual satisfaction. Discovering other ways of giving and receiving pleasure was a transformative experience. It was about adapting to the ‘new normal’ and finding joy and closeness within that realm. Understandably, the path to accepting and embracing these changes is personal and varies from person to person.

It’s important to remember that fear, anxiety, body image concerns, and decreased sexual desire are all common experiences for women living through and beyond breast cancer. It’s equally important to acknowledge and address these feelings, seeking assistance when needed. For me, sources like The Breast Cancer Resource Foundation and Cedars-Sinai provided useful information and offered an empathetic perspective.

Your journey with sex and intimacy after breast cancer is yours alone, each path is uniquely individual. Celebrate the strength and courage it took to face breast cancer and know that, as you navigate your path forward, you are not alone. Don’t hesitate to share your fears, hopes, and joys with your partner, with other survivors, or with professionals. Above all, be gentle with yourself, understanding that the journey towards a fulfilling intimate life post-diagnosis is as much part of surviving as the cancer treatment itself.

Ellyn Winters-Robinson is a breast cancer survivor, entrepreneur, author, in-demand speaker, women’s health advocate, professional communicator and a globally recognized health rebel. Ellyn's best-selling book "Flat Please Hold the Shame," is a girlfriend’s companion guide for those on the breast cancer journey. She is also the co-creator of, the world’s first conversational AI companion for those on the breast cancer journey. With Dense Breasts Canada and award-winning photographer Hilary Gauld, Ellyn also co-produced I WANT YOU TO KNOW, a celebrated photo essay showing the diverse faces and stories of 31 individuals on the breast cancer journey. Ellyn’s story and have been featured in People Magazine, Chatelaine Magazine, the Globe and Mail, CTV National News and Your Morning, and Fast Company.

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