BREAST CANCER AND SEXUALITY

I have just presented a paper to the National Breast Care Nurses Conference held in Melbourne (my last for 2013 as I am taking time to do some writing) titled Effective Sexual Counselling of Women with Breast Cancer: More than Commonsense. Sexual issues related to breast cancer do not receive enough recognition so I thought I would mention some of my key points over several posts. Here’s the first:

* Most women diagnosed with breast cancer (BC) are not asked about the effects of the BC experience on their sex lives or body image, whether this be at the time of diagnosis, during or after treatment, or 5 years later. Shocking for any sexual therapist to hear this.
* BC is obviously a significant disruption to most aspects of a woman’s life including her sexuality and romantic relationships. Therefore, most women with BC will find themselves experiencing sexual issues or difficulties or simply changes in the way they express their sexuality, both within their relationships and as individuals. Although some researchers and clinicians begin to attach labels of ‘dysfunction’ and ‘condition’ to these, I prefer to see such issues as a NORMAL and understandable reaction to a life-threatening situation. Sure, some sexual problems will be more severe than others and some will last longer than others, but it’s still important to get across the message that there is nothing wrong with a woman with BC who struggles to feel sexual or romantic.
* Added to this, a woman’s breast holds special meaning in many cultures. In Western cultures it is seen to be an important part of a woman’s sexual and romantic image. It can also be seen as related to being a good mother, a successful woman, attractive person and so on.
* From this we can conclude that sexual and romantic issues MUST be discussed with all women with BC. Not only can this reduce stress around this topic, but it can also help a woman with BC to feel more positive about herself and her relationships. Wellness includes feeling good about ourselves sexually and romantically, even if at times we are unable to actually express our needs because of illness. Good quality sexual counselling and therapy should be available to all women with BC at all times during their journey.

Next post I will talk about what ‘good quality’ sexual counselling/therapy would involve when applied to women with BC.

Dr V

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