Let’s Talk About . . .

. . . sex. Yep, you heard me, sex. More specifically, sex post-breast cancer. For those of you who’ve been tuning in the past few weeks and have read “Boobie Wednesday” and “Post-Boobie Wednesday” then you know that I went through my own experience with breast cancer. I can’t say ‘thank you’ enough to all of you who have tweeted, Facebooked and commented on those posts. I really appreciate your love and support.

So let’s talk about sex and the post-breast cancer body.

I know that there’s still a stigma about women talking openly about sex, and I know that there’s even less open discussion about sex and cancer, especially how women feel after breast cancer. The hardest thing for women and reproductive cancer is the fear of losing their femininity, sex appeal, sensuality. I know I certainly had those concerns. So much of a woman’s identity is bound up in her body, to her external displays of womanhood. Many women hear breast cancer and they immediately fear losing their breasts. I hope that this post will show women of all ages that a diagnosis of breast cancer, or any cancer for that matter, doesn’t have to mean a loss of their sex life or their confidence in their sexuality. My reconstruction was difficult, as I have previously discussed. There were numerous complications. I had more surgeries then initially expected. But in the end my breasts came out wonderfully. I had a womanly silhouette. I have bouncy, full breasts. I don’t feel my femininity is diminished. I don’t feel like any less of a woman. I hope that others will have similar experiences and see a happy, fulfilled sex life after cancer.

Prior to my mastectomy I was confident in my body, I know how men would respond to it, but more importantly I knew how I would respond to them – how my nipples would harden, or the tingling down my spine I would feel at their touch, etc.

After the mastectomy, that become difficult. My confidence was different, I was more secure in myself because I knew how strong my body was, I knew what it was capable of surviving. I was, oddly enough, more confident then I had ever been in myself. But when it came to men – how they would respond to my new breasts, to the scars, to my lack of sensation – I was nervous and scared that my new body would be a turn-off. The internal drive I had had before that gave me the sexy prowl of a confident woman in bed was more timid. I didn’t know that attraction would be immediate. I was afraid that I would have to “convince” someone that I was sexy, to overlook the changes to my body. And even though I have had successful sexual experiences since my surgeries, those fears linger. Though no man has gone screaming from my bedroom, I still have concerns that one day, one man will have a problem with my body.

The first time I had sex after the surgery I was nervous. I had already had “the talk” with the man. Explained what I had gone through, told him that if he wasn’t interested or if he was scared that it was cool to keep it as friends. But he responded to my body, to me as if I hadn’t had breast cancer, as if my body wasn’t different then the “norm.”

He lavished attention on my breasts, enjoying them himself even though I couldn’t feel anything he did. I couldn’t feel his hands on them or his mouth. My nipples didn’t respond to his attention. But I was lucky, he didn’t seem to mind. He liked the look of them and their weight in his hands. Our time together galvanized my emotions. I became very comfortable with him, and my success with him has made experiences since easier.

Having lost sensation in my breasts, foreplay and attention to the rest of my body has become more important to me. I have found other areas of my body have become sensitive and that enjoy attention paid to then. The insides of my wrists, the hollows of my elbows, the back of my knees, my neck and earlobes. These have become the hot spots since losing sensation in my breasts. Discussing this with my partners is key. Explaining that just sucking on my nipples isn’t going to cut it.

Communication is essential to a successful sexual experience, and that is even more the case after trauma to the body. Explaining to my partners that I won’t respond to every touch of his hand or mouth on my body, or that it takes longer for me to rev my engine then most. But I will get there and when I do… I’m a tiger.

12 Comments

Filed under Feminism

12 responses to “Let’s Talk About . . .

  1. Allie Gresham

    Beautifully written. Thank you for writting this. It hits home in so many ways. This is still something I deal with especially post -hysterectomy!! You are incredible and amazing. Thank you!

  2. (Forgive the length and rather randomness of my response.)
    For those of us on the breast cancer ‘survivor’ spectrum, the differences in our experiences, responses to treatment and its aftermath are inextricably linked to our personhood, the quirks of our bodies and our minds.

    I’m usually reluctant to draw parallels. But for some reason, your request for feedback triggered my willingness to explore and disclose.

    I have never explicitly written about my breast cancer. Certainly, not for anyone else to read. I’ve talked about it. Cried about it. Celebrated the fight of it. Even laughed about it.

    Simple demographic and diagnostic differences influenced each of our treatment decisions and their implications on our emotional resilience. In a nutshell: (as far as I can tell)
    You were 24. I was 50.
    You had not had children. I was awaiting birth of first grandchild
    Yours surgery & reconstruction Mine surgery & chemo
    Yours no metastases Mine metastases
    You like boys I like girls
    You like sex So do I

    In very distinctive ways, these differences are likely to have influenced our perceptions of our ‘sexiness quotient’. But make no mistake. Cutting off one’s breast (breasts) alters the physiology of pleasure. Facing death alters its desperate joy.

    In an odd way, the diagonal scar that runs from the tip of my breastbone to my left armpit is a battle scar. Traceable. There is absolutely no tissue left beneath it. My ribs can be seen pushing against the flat tight skin that stretches to cover the space my breast once swelled. Small, a nice handful. Missing. Gone. Just like that. It was the breast I liked best. Seriously.

    I felt disfigured. My wound recovery was slow. And it hurt. A lot. Now it just itches. Like a phantom limb. Amputated.

    I did not chose reconstruction. My nipple could not be spared. What is a breast without a nipple? I saw no benefit other than to achieve symmetry.

    I chose the Amazon Warrior image. To better launch the arrow from my bow. It gave me strength. I subsequently got my first tattoo, a warrior design, in that numb and flattened space.

    I had already felt that my sex appeal factor had been reduced by the simple facts of an aging body. Chemo banged me up pretty good too. (I didn’t know exactly how much for another two years.)

    Although I’d had a girl or two, I had not been in a relationship for 14 years. Bad breakup with girlfriend of 11 years had left its own, less-visible scar. But sex? Lesbian sex? Who would want me? Well, surprisingly, quite a few. There is a bravado in it. Maybe a facing of one’s worst fears? A perverse curiosity perhaps. A sensitivity men can’t have. Even the best of them. I believe women are more readily able to understand and share the trauma and grief of this disfigurement and yet get past it.

    I have to admit that I am a feminist of the era that loathes the objectification of women, of their body parts. I don’t appreciate Lesbians who act like misogynist men in that regard.

    Not being a breast woman myself, (it’s all about ass), oh and brains and fingertips, mouths and napes, eyelashes and the tracing of that lovely line from navel to sweetness. For me, women on women sex has always embraced those more tender erogenous zones. However, I did miss that direct nerve-based arousal from nipple to c-word. That zingy thing. You know what I mean.

    That gentle kiss on my scar whispers a more tender love. The woman who loves me, who lives with me now these five years later would not have me any other way.

    *But there is a little more to this tale. The chemo I had been persuaded to undergo, (Against my better judgement.) irreversibly and profoundly damaged my heart. I received a diagnosis of severe dilated cardiomyopathy a little more than two years ago. My prognosis is bleak. My docs tell me to consider a heart transplant as destination therapy. (They know I’ll be denied because of the co-morbidity of my cancer, but they don’t think I know that.) Sheesh! But I am a valiant Amazon. My sex life has greatly been diminished as a result. But hey, I’m still here. And I still like sex. Just have to take it a little slower.

  3. This was a really powerful post, and so was Kate’s response.

    Kate’s comment about warrior marks makes me think of the transmen I know who have undergone top surgery. They bear their scars with pride, because they are a symbol of finding the body that they desire. To me, this ties it all back to what was mentioned in the post, about the breasts being a very powerful symbol of our womanhood.

    Thanks for giving me some food for thought.

  4. Pingback: Post-Boobie Wednesday | mashrabiyya

  5. Pingback: “Boobie Wednesday” | mashrabiyya

  6. Jenn4Smiles

    I feel your words. Thank you for sharing.
    I have been advised to have a double mastectomy. I refused.
    I have lost my uterus and cervix and part of my colon, so far.
    Keep up the fight. Love yourself.

  7. OK. Maybe I’m just totally naive. (Obviously, I must must be.) I did not know about this lack of sensation after a mastectomy. The women who have responded to this have seemed to totally understand.

    But, really, that is just totally fucked, philosophical you may be.

    And just to let you know, I may not have tits, but I DO have some brutal battle scars, complete with missing parts, so I DO know about loss of sensation, and that is a source of suffering worse than ANY pain. Naive I may be, but I am not so naive as that.

    All I can say is that if you find your self worth in your physical perfection, you are hosed. As is ANYONE. Sooner or later, we all get old anyway. (If we are lucky. :)

    Probably not too cheering, but as a medievalist, I reckon you can drink in the tragic view of the cosmos. Certainly, you have my empathy. My best to you. Carry on. Be great.

  8. Thank you for your courage. Tough to write about; tougher to experience. Best of the best to you.

  9. Pingback: “Boobie Wednesday” and the State of Women’s Health | mashrabiyya

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