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If you feel pain during sex

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Breast cancer treatment can cause side effects that affect your sexual life, including pain during intercourse or penetration. If this is happening, it’s very important to talk with your healthcare provider.

It is important to know that there are options to address these problems and make sex pleasurable.

What can help

  • Stretching muscles. Pain may be caused when muscles are tight.
    • If you have had pain during penetration, your pelvic muscles may tighten as you anticipate pain during sex again. This may make penetration impossible.
      • Ask your provider for help in learning to relax and stretch pelvic muscles.
    • Vaginal dilators and lubricants can help stretch your vagina and improve elasticity. This reduces pain and discomfort.
  • Add moisture. Vaginal lubricants, moisturizers and other products available over-the-counter or by prescription can make penetration more comfortable.
  • Vary positions. What felt good before treatment might not feel good right now.
    • Try different sexual positions that let you control the movement, to avoid pain.
      • If deep penetration hurts, try to make the thrusts less deep.
      • With a male partner, you and your partner may want to lie on your sides, either with your partner behind you, like spoons, or face to face.
  • Ask about aqueous lidocaine. If the pain you feel is at the opening of your vagina, this medicine – a type of anesthetic – can help.

Ask for advice

For pain that persists, talk with members of your care team, including your gynecologist and oncologist.

  • Your gynecologist may check to see if you have pelvic floor muscle problems or a urinary tract or vaginal infection.
  • You might want a referral to a specialist in dyspareunia, or sexual pain. That specialist may recommend muscle relaxants, physical therapy or desensitization therapy.
    • You can learn exercises to relax the entrance to the vagina and decrease pain.

If you and your partner avoid sex because of pain, you may also want help to improve communication and restore sexual intimacy. A counselor or sex therapist can help.

There are solutions that can help you look forward to sexual activity. These organizations provide information and can connect you to a physical therapist or sexual pain specialist:

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Reviewed and updated: November 4, 2019

Reviewed by: Don S. Dizon MD, FACP, FASCO

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Living Beyond Breast Cancer is a national nonprofit organization that seeks to create a world that understands there is more than one way to have breast cancer. To fulfill its mission of providing trusted information and a community of support to those impacted by the disease, Living Beyond Breast Cancer offers on-demand emotional, practical, and evidence-based content. For over 30 years, the organization has remained committed to creating a culture of acceptance — where sharing the diversity of the lived experience of breast cancer fosters self-advocacy and hope. For more information, learn more about our programs and services.

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