Understanding sexuality and intimacy
Sexuality is not only about the physical body or sex – it encompasses:
- Gender identity – your sense of being female, male, a blend of both, or neither, and how you believe we should behave based on this.
- Sexual orientation – whether you are emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to people of a different gender, the same gender, more than one gender, or nobody at all.
- How you experience intimacy – a sense of closeness or togetherness, shared with another person through companionship, touch and emotional connection.
- How you feel about your body, your sexual fantasies and past sexual experiences. This may also be influenced by the media, our family, friends and religious beliefs.
Everyone is different – there is no right or wrong way to feel about sexuality and intimacy.
During and after cancer treatment
Many women will experience problems with sex and intimacy during and after treatment for breast cancer. These problems are a common experience for women who have been through cancer treatment.
Treatments can have both short and long term consequences. Chemotherapy, endocrine and surgical treatments like mastectomy, may lead to pain and menopausal symptoms. This can affect your self-image and desire to be intimate or sexual, and in turn affect your confidence around sex and intimacy.
For many women there is a need to establish a “new you” after a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, which includes sexuality and intimacy. To assist you:
- There is help available to do this and the information in this Navigator topic may help you find a direction forwards.
- If you are in a relationship, it’s important to be able to talk to your partner about how you are feeling. You could share the information in this topic with your partner as a way to open up the conversation.
- If you’re not in a relationship you may find the thought of forming a new one daunting. This is an understandable reaction. You may benefit from talking your fears through with a peer or a health professional, and consider what information you would be comfortable disclosing to a potential partner.
- If talking about these issues is difficult for you, counselling may be helpful and there are resources in this navigator to help you find support.
You don’t have to just put up with problems of intimacy and sexuality you encounter following a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Talking to your breast care nurse, GP or specialist about how you are feeling and asking for help can be an important first step.
The purpose of this navigator is to guide you to information about sexuality and intimacy following a diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer. It does not constitute an endorsement by Counterpart of the information contained in the resources. This information is not meant to be a replacement for consultations with and recommendations from your treating team, but rather to provide a starting point to information seeking. If you are unsure about anything, you should always consult your medical team.