Maintaining Sexual Life

Updated 
August 31, 2015

Whether you are married, partnered or single, a breast cancer diagnosis does not mean an end to a rewarding sexual life. While your life may undergo readjustment, the insight you gained from the experience of breast cancer may enrich your relationships and restore a joyous sense of your body.

If You Have a Partner

Rebuilding a sexual relationship with your partner after treatment may take time as you adapt to changes in your body and thinking.

The way you as a couple copeinfo-icon with the sexual side effects of treatment sometimes depends on the emotional strength of the relationship before diagnosisinfo-icon.

Talk to your partner about what feels good (or doesn’t) and about new activities you may want to try. Sharing your feelings and your sexual fantasies will help the two of you find new ways to be intimate.

New Approaches Are OkayIf you find it difficult to become aroused during sexual touch, these ideas may help:

  • Try sexual aids such as vibrators. 
  • Read erotic stories together or watch erotic movies.
  • Write your fantasies in a journal. Share them with your partner.
  • Make smaller changes by setting the mood with scented candles or watching a romantic film before lovemaking.

You may find some types of sexual activity painful. Talk about other options with your partner. Touch parts of your body you may not have explored before. You may be surprised to find they bring about sexual pleasure.

Go Easy Studies show partners of women affected by breast cancer care most that their loved one is alive and feeling well.

Cuddling, hugging and massaging each other are good ways for both of you to become comfortable again with touch. Such physical contact can rekindle desire.

There may be ups and downs as you navigate your new sexual territory. It’s OK to resume sexual activity slowly and give yourself and your partner time to adjust.

For Women Who Have Sex With Women

Women who have sex with women copeinfo-icon with the sexual aftermath of treatment based on the emotional strength of the relationship before diagnosisinfo-icon, just as heterosexual couples do.

Little research has been done on the sexual side effects of breast cancer for women who have sex with women, although physical side effects that may interfere with sexual activity are the same as for women who have sex with men.

Sharing With Your PartnerIt’s important to talk with your partner about your feelings. It’s likely that she, too, has feelings she is not talking about. She may

  • have worries about your health, or her own
  • feel sadness or grief on your behalf
  • worry that touching you will hurt you

Giving voice to your own and shared concerns can build trust and closeness.

Getting Help From ProvidersTo get support for sexual concerns, it’s important to share your sexual orientation with your healthcare team. If your providers assume you are heterosexual, they may not be able to help you with your intimacy questions as easily.

You may worry about discrimination from healthcare providers. Or, they just might not be sure how to help you. Providers you trust should be able to refer you to professionals who can help.

Some women report problems getting information and support about sexualityinfo-icon. It may be hard to find support groups. These groups provide information that may help:

American Cancer Society Cancer Survivors Network: csn.cancer.org

Gay and Lesbian Medical Association: (202) 600-8037, glma.org

Howard Brown Project:  howardbrown.org/default.asp?id=2212

National LGBT Cancer Network: (212) 675-2633, cancer-network.org

If You Are Single

A breast cancer diagnosisinfo-icon does not mean an end to romantic love, or a sex life, no matter what your age.

The following suggestions may help ease you back into the dating world.

Looking for Prospectiveinfo-icon Dates

  • Consider the type of person you want to meet. Ask yourself what kind of person you’re looking for and what your priorities are.
  • Get the word out. Finding good partners is tough under any circumstances. Don’t be shy about asking friends for an introduction to someone single.
    • Participating in activities you enjoy, taking a course or volunteering are also good ways to meet potential partners.
  • Go online. Specialized dating sites such as CancerMatch.com and Prescription4Love.com, as well as traditional dating sites, may help you meet prospective dates.
  • Attend events. Attending conferences and cancer advocacy events may help you meet someone who shares your experience.

Navigating Dating Relationships

Sex and Intimacy: When Should I Tell a Date About My Diagnosis?

  • When should I talk about my diagnosis and treatment? There are no rules about when to tell a date about your breast cancer experience. Start the conversation when you feel the timing is right or intimacy seems likely.
    • Bringing up the issue too soon may scare away a potential partner. Waiting too long may make the person angry you withheld important information.
    • Become friends before thinking about becoming intimate.
    • It may help to talk with a mental healthinfo-icon professional or your support groupinfo-icon for advice on sharing your history of breast cancer with dating partners.
    • You can also call LBBC’s Breast Cancer Helpline to reach a peer who dated after diagnosis.
  • Practice what you’re going to say. Tell your story in the mirror or to a trusted family member or friend first.
    • Be honest in letting your potential partner know what to expect. Explain what was done, how you’re doing now and how you feel.
    • Remember, people you meet may also have dealt with cancer or another serious illness.
  • Value yourself. If the person can’t copeinfo-icon with your breast cancer history or just isn’t right for you, move on. You deserve better!

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