Tips and Resources for Sex After Breast Cancer

Those who live with breast cancer, both survivors and their loved ones, need no reminders that this is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The rest of us do need to think about prevention and awareness and our role in supporting those who experience this illness.

breast cancer awareness, sexuality One of the side effects reported by many women with breast cancer is a loss of sexual desire. Today there is more information for women and their partners but it’s still a difficult topic to address. Sadly, many medical professionals are reluctant to discuss challenges around sexual intimacy. I’ve done some research and compiled a list of resources in my latest article on Kinkly. The article, Sex After Breast Cancer, shares tips on increasing personal desire and communicating with partners in finding a way back to sexual intimacy.

Sex After Breast Cancer

Many women with breast cancer express that they feel a loss of sexual desire or fears about having sex after their diagnosis. Most medical professionals aren’t trained or comfortable discussing sex with their patients, and this leaves women with few options for addressing their concerns. A loss of sexual desire after surgery or treatment is not unusual; the search for answers is the challenging part.

How Does Breast Cancer Affect Sexual Desire?

The loss of one or both breasts can be extremely traumatic for a woman and is often one of the biggest factors in the loss of sexual desire for women with breast cancer. Many questions may arise after a mastectomy: Will my partner still want me, even without breasts, or with breasts that aren’t real? Will he or she be turned off by my scars? Will I still feel like a woman without breasts? These kinds of thoughts play a significant role in a woman’s ability to feel sexy. 

Breast Cancer and the Body

Breast cancer can affect a woman’s life, and her partner’s, in many ways. Here are some changes that those who are diagnosed can expect: 

  • Scars or changes in breasts lead to a decline in sexy or confident feelings about oneself.
  • There can be physical pain or discomfort in the surgical site.
  • Abrupt menopause can occur due to medications, and brings on more severe menopausal side effects than a natural transition.
  • Hormonal changes affect one’s level of desire.
  • Medications like Tamoxifen, antidepressants and aromatase inhibiters have been associated with low sexual desire.
  • Fears about reoccurrence of illness can arise.
  • A partner who has become the caregiver during illness may have difficulty transitioning back to his or her role before the diagnosis.

(Still feeling shy about post treatment effects? Follow our 6 Steps to Help You Love Your Naked Body).

You’ll find the rest of the article at Kinkly

 

Photo from Kinkly; Source: Gstockstudio1/Dreamstime.com

Q&A: How Soon to Have Sex When Dating

 

My most recent article, How Soon Can I Have Sex with a New Guy?, appeared on Midlife Boulevard this week. I think Suzanne’s question is one many of us have–what happens when I’m feeling desire and want to have sex? If you’re new to dating as a midlifer or still remember those early warnings about good girls and sex you may be confused. Hopefully my response to this newly divorced woman will help you.
“Dear Walker, I’ve just met this great guy online. We’ve been emailing and talking for 2 weeks and now we’re talking about setting up our first date. I’m 52, newly divorced and a little nervous about having sex with someone other than my husband after all these years—but excited! Is there anything wrong with me thinking about having sex with him? Suzanne” sex-when-dating-at-midlife Suzanne, It’s not my place to tell you it’s right or wrong to have sex. You’re an adult and can do whatever feels comfortable for you. I will however offer a few thoughts about having sex the first time with a new partner. You’re smart to start thinking about sex and planning for it. However, don’t get so excited about sex that you forget about practical matters.

When to Have Sex the First Time with a New Partner

Here are a few questions to consider as you think about having sex with this guy:

What am I you looking for in dating? Do I want casual sex or something more long lasting?

If you’re just interested in having sex then other issues of compatibility aren’t as important. If you want to find someone to date on an ongoing basis then you might want to get to know him before rushing into sex. Why? Because sexual chemistry can mask the lack of  compatibility in other areas. It’s awkward to start having sex early on then discover after a few dates that you really don’t have much in common.

Am I ready to have sex with someone new?

Having sex with a new guy involves getting naked, literally and figuratively. Are you comfortable going there? Do you have any fears or concerns around sex, how your body looks, or inviting a relative stranger into your house? If the answer is yes, it’s a good idea to discuss concerns with a prospective partner early in the relationship—which would mean over drinks on that first date.

Do I need birth control or protection?

If you still need birth control, have you talked to your gynecologist? What do you know about sexual transmitted infections, STIs? Will you feel comfortable asking him to wear a condom? And supplying him with a condom if he says no? Have you been tested to make sure you are free of STIs and HIV ?

Have safe is this guy?

If you’re going to have sex on the first date you should be very sure this man is who he says he is, where you will be meeting, and other details before getting intimate with a relative stranger. For example-his place or yours? Do anyone know where you’ll be? First date sex can be breathtaking and exciting. And if that’s what you want and you feel safe then by all means go for it. Just make sure you feel absolutely comfortable with this person. And, have an initial conversation about sex and your expectations. If you have any challenges, limitations or concerns share them with your date. Talking about sex will give a feel for what kind of lover he is. What do your instincts tell you about his skill and his approach to sex? Is it compatible with what you want? If the idea of discussing sex seems too personal then perhaps you’re not ready to have sex? I suggest that you think about things you want to say, before you’re standing naked by the bed. You may not actually say all of these things, but the exercise can help you determine what’s important to you. I know I’ve given you lots of questions but it’s the best way for you to look at what you want and to be realistic about approaching sex with this guy. Being single in midlife can be exciting, scary, confusing and exhilarating. This is your time—time for you to speak up about what you want. Time to have fun! It’s important that you date men who respect you and want to please you—in and out of bed. Don’t feel pressured to have sex too soon if you’re not ready. If you are ready don’t let others tell you when you ‘should’ have sex. After all, you are a grown woman with wants and needs! Be safe and have fun. Ps: You might read my last article about online dating and safety. And, be sure to check out my read my other Sexual Health articles at Midlife Boulevard.

Losing Your Virginity-Let’s Take a Deeper Look

Let’s talk about “losing” your virginity.  What are we implying by using the term ‘to lose your virginity’?  The implication is one of passivity. A statement that reinforces the notion of girls and women as powerless. Society continues to render young women powerless by denying them accurate sex education and promoting abstinence.

All the talk of virgin pledges and purity parties blows my mind and really irritates me. This seems to be purely about controlling  female sexuality. What about purity balls for boys? Are they posing with moms who are protecting them? OF COURSE NOT. Because we encourage boys to go out and ‘be boys’. 

 

purity balls, virginity, chastityI found this article about David Magnusson and his work as I searched for information on ‘losing your virginity’. Magnusson’s book Purity is about young girls who have made a pledge to keep their virginity until marriage and their fathers who pledge to help protect them during their journeys.

“Magnusson admits he had a strong reaction when he first learned of the purity balls. He thought mostly of gun-wielding fathers trying to protect their daughters. He began to explore the idea of the balls further, reading everything he could find, and reaching out to various balls to see about photographing the fathers and daughters.” 

There’s something creepy about these photos of girls in formal dresses posing with their fathers’ hands wrapped around their bodies. In some of the photos they have their eyes closed in a semi-rapturous pose. 

First off, are these  father-daughter rituals designed to subtly brainwash girls into feeling so powerless that they choose to turn their virginity over to daddy? Are they restricting girls until the right man comes along to marry her, replacing daddy? Is it simply fatherly love and devotion or an attempt to control her sexuality? 

Second, isn’t there something just a little odd about the sexual implications of this movement?  That’s one of my first thoughts as I look at the portraits photographed by Magnusson. Are these young, impressionable girls being turned into semi-sex slaves, in the guise of virgins, to their fathers?  Feels rather Oedipal to me. 

I am totally in favor of young women delaying sex until they find a partner who respects them, their body, and their wishes. Young women should be given the tools to help them make decisions about when having sex feels right.  Most young men and women below the age of 15 are viewed as too young to possess the emotional maturity for emotionally sound, mutually satisfying sex.  Chances are that a too-young woman is either responding to pressure from a guy, peer influences, or because she feels sexual desire and isn’t sure how to deal with it.

Wouldn’t all of those reasons be best dealt with by offering quality sex education and open communication about sex? Having daddy lock her up in a figurative chastity belt and convincing/manipulating her to wait until marriage is soooo not a good idea!  And researchers agree with me. Columbia University’s Peter Bearman co-authored the most comprehensive study ever done on adolescent health and sexuality. He says, “Sex education doesn’t cause all these negative outcomes. What causes these negative outcomes is kids who are having sex and aren’t protecting themselves.”

The downside is that, when they have sex, pledgers are one-third less likely to use condoms at first sex,” says Bearman. “So all of the benefit of the delay in terms of pregnancy-risk and in terms of STD acquisition — poof — it just disappears because they’re so much less likely to use a condom at first sex.” (CBS News, 2005)

Based on those interviews with more than 20,000 young people who took virginity pledges, Bearman found that 88 percent of them broke their pledge and had sex before marriage. Sadly, 9 years later we’re still denying our youth full access to sex education. And we’re now promoting Purity Balls, keeping alive the notion that virginity is our salvation as women.

Magnusson had a change of heart after he started interviewing the fathers and daughters.  “He learned that many of the young women were independent thinkers and their fathers were simply trying to protect their loved ones the best way they knew how. Magnusson sent portraits to everyone who participated in the project and said they were all very happy with the results.”

I’m not convinced.

If I could go back to my teenage years, or offer words of advice to my granddaughters when they grow up, it would be to delay intercourse and other sexual acts like oral and anal sex (rising in popularity as they’re not viewed as ‘real sex’). Acknowledge and play with your sexual desires–get to know your body and how you respond to touch. Learn to cherish your body and treat it as a thing of beauty. Then as you go forward with a possible partner think about how you want your body to be viewed and touched. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this person really interested in me?
  • Is he just looking to have sex and move on? 
  • Does he respect my wishes if you ask to slow down?
  • Are the two of us comfortably talking about sex? If you can’t talk about what you want then chances are you’re not going to get the sexual experience you deserve.
  • Will he wait until I feel ready?
  • Are we talking about contraception and sexually transmitted infections?

These are questions we should all be asking of potential partners at any age. But, when teens aren’t given the right information, thanks to abstinence education, and don’t have the self-esteem or comfort in their own bodies, they’re susceptible to boys who don’t really care about them. They are likely to lose their virginity instead of making a conscious choice to give up their virgin status. There is a big difference.

There is much to lose when we disempower young women around their bodies. They become easy targets for predators–sexual abusers and boyfriends who don’t respect girls.

If you have a daughter and you want her to wait before having sex–talk to her! Don’t shut her down, don’t take away her voice, don’t deny her education. Information is the best tool for making careful, fully informed decisions. Sheltering girls and turning them into daddy’s little chaste princesses isn’t the best solution.  

But then, these men and the women who support this crap already know this don’t they? They don’t want empowered girls. They don’t want women to own their sexuality. They want women to get out of the board room, stay at home, raise the kids and be the good wife. 

I want to say this is a sad case of parental involvement gone awry, but I think it’s more insidious than that.

 

Let’s End Violence Against Women

I live in the central Virginia area. That means I’ve been surrounded by the fears and concerns and hopes for the young woman who disappeared almost 2 weeks ago. It’s a terrible reminder of how vulnerable women, in particular, are in the world today. As a mother, my heart weeps for the parents. As a grandmother, I want to grab my two little girls and protect them from a world that still treats women as objects, victims, targets.

We are all feeling a little skittish right now. The helicopters have been hovering overhead looking for this young woman, Hannah Graham. And last weekend there were almost 2000 volunteers scouring the community, searching for details as to her whereabouts. There is a heightened awareness of the dangers in our world that don’t often surface in our lovely small college town.

The suspect has been found and will be extradited soon. So, we wait and we pray. And, we try to stick to the facts and leave wild conjecture behind. There is a lot of gossip and speculation going on right now. People are making up stories, hypothesizing on what the alleged perpetrator did, and they’re creating stories out of thin air.  It’s what happens when we have big dramas–the media are just as guilty.

Reading some of the online comments this morning I was struck by our need for conclusions, for endings. It’s hard to sit in the face of discomfort.  We want to wrap it all up neatly in a box–no matter the cost. Because we’re uncomfortable with our ‘not knowing’ we try to create the story as a way of managing our fears. How do we seek the truth, or be still, in the absence of facts when things like this happen? How do we sit with a story and hold back that tendency to place blame?

The victim blaming hasn’t fully sprung forth yet, but it will. We like to blame women for things that aren’t within their control. We ask them to wear more modest dresses so their male teachers won’t be tempted. We tell women they can’t go out at night alone because it’s dangerous. We tell girls they can prevent rape by not drinking or going to parties. We tell women not to talk about their sexual desires because it isn’t proper. We don’t want women in high offices because they are emotional and therefore unsuited for positions of power (only in the United States).  We blame women for the demise of the family, and fault them for failing to produce home cooked meals. We tell women it’s not OK to enjoy sex, to want birth control and we tell women they don’t have the right to govern their own bodies. Confident, assertive women are labeled “Bitch”.

We are telling one half of the society to take on the added burden of protecting themselves from the small percentage of predators in the world. Eve caused the big fall. Hester ruined the state of marriage. Marilyn tempted the President. Emma demeaned men by calling for gender equality. Women encourage rapists by daring to drop the veils and live independent lives.

Heavens Forbid that these men try and curb their criminal tendencies.

Yet in spite of all these fears and concerns. In the face of countless sexual assaults, domestic abuse, sexual harassment, public shaming, and death threats where is the call to responsible action–for men to stop their violent behavior? Their criminal actions.  Where are the denunciations of these perpetrators? Where is the condemnation and outrage about rape or domestic violence? Why is the other half of society sitting by and watching this happen without acting to bring about necessary change?

I’m tired of this. After a number of years working in the field of violence against women, and more recent years on the sidelines, I’m not seeing a significant change in attitudes or a decline in violent attacks. Yes, there are many more men working side by side with female allies to stop sexual and domestic violence. But there are more men cheering their buddies along and more men producing violent movies, sexist ads, and standing on the sidelines catcalling and harassing and telling demeaning jokes and supporting the ‘boys will be boys’ crap.

It’s unfair to pit the men against the women-but it reflects what our society does. There are female predators and there are a significant number of good men working to change this culture. I applaud them and happen to call some of them friends, colleagues and allies. Just this weekend I met a man who is involved in a national movement, One in Four, to educate about sexual assault.  But those who perpetrate evil or in lesser cases, abuse their male privilege have more power than the rest of us—or so it would seem.

What will it take to end violence against women? What can we do? As mothers, parents, grandparents, concerned citizens, educators, elected officials and workers in the field?

What will it take? What will you do today?