The rigors of breast cancer treatment can put a serious kibosh on your sex life, whether you're exhausted from chemo or radiation, recovering from surgery, or feeling less attractive and more self-consciousor all of the above. But if you were sexually active before, it's important not to let your sex life languish completely, says Helen L. Coons, PhD, president and clinical director of Women's Mental Health Associates in Philadelphia and a frequent speaker on sexuality and breast cancer. "If you have the courage to cope with a cancer diagnosis and treatment, you have the courage to talk to your partner about these issues." Here's what Coons urges couples to consider when getting back on track in the bedroom.
- Schedule a conversation: Find a time to communicate that works for both of you. "Do it when neither of you is tired, when you're both present and not distractedand not in the bedroom," advises Coons.
- Be open: Talk about your sex life openly and honestly and then spend some time together doing something you both enjoy.
- Start slow: Coons suggests that when you're ready to start touching each other, try sensate-focus exercises, such as massage with your clothes on. "When was the last time you did passionate kissing? When was the last time you just massaged each other?"
- Be creative: The first step to good sex is feeling emotionally connected, so think about what makes you and your partner feel more in touch with one another if there's been a disconnect while you were each coping with cancer. What worked for you before? What new, innovative approaches to intimacy and arousal could you try (including new sex positions that are more comfortable if pain during sex is a problem)?
- It's not all-or-nothing: Sex isn't just about intercourse. "There's an awful lot between nothing and penetrative sex," Coons says.
- Seek outside help: If you are having trouble with desire, arousal, or sexual pain, or are dissatisfied with your sexual health in any way, tell your health care provider about your concerns.