Looking for Libido: Sex and Intimacy After Breast Cancer Treatment
The flight of libido after breast cancer treatment may not be a subject everyone is comfortable talking about, but my personal survey of survivors—six friends plus me—ends up with about half of us losing libido after breast cancer and half of us not. About half of us had chemo and half of us just radiation, but that didn’t seem to affect whose sexual appetite and/or pleasure was reduced and whose wasn’t. Clearly this was not a scientific study, but we can learn from each other, right?
Why Is Sex After Breast Cancer Worse for Some, Okay or Better for Others?
So we theorize: How come some of us have not been negatively affected? Without getting too intimate here, this is what seems to be true for me: I’d been on hormone replacement therapy for thirteen years when, the day after diagnosis, I quit cold turkey. Immediately: hot flash city, day and night, for about two years.
I miss my estrogen terribly. That wrinkle-preventing layer just under my skin I never noticed before? Gone. The soft shine in my hair, my reliable curves, my waistline? History. Intercourse, especially after long periods of abstinence, can sometimes be painful. Still, I can take pleasure in sex. I credit a list of L’s for my happy, if sometimes frustrated, libido: 1) Lady Luck, 2) a luxurious lover, and 3) lots of lubricant.
My Sex Drive in My 60s... Lucky Me!
People seem to me to have inherently different sex drives, no matter what their health issues are. In the last two years, at least four enviably trim and apparently healthy much younger women confided to me that they have no interest in sex. I am astonished. Over the past twenty years, I have developed the theory that, at least for women, age inspires libido. Every decade birthday I think, “This is as good as it gets.” I thought that at forty, at fifty, and at sixty. Goodness! Do you think seventy….?
I don’t do much more to feel this way than blatantly color my hair (Desert Sunrise, which I confessed last night to a woman at a local gallery who asked me what color I used). I think I just happen to live in my body more than some people. Maybe it’s why I’m an artist. I have a life-long friend, an administrator who lives in his head. His body is happiest when carrying his considerable brain to meetings and sitting in a chair.
Oh Baby! I keep reading articles that insist that it’s not honey’s fault, but in my experience (and I’ve been single for 30 of my 45 adult years), most honeys could learn a thing or two in the seduction and foreplay department. Maybe I kept my libido through and after breast cancer treatment because my honey spent hours making me feel desired. How could I not respond to someone who took credit for my hot flashes, got off on my radiation tattoos, and concluded, after extensive research, that my radiated, scarred, smaller breast was the more sensitive? Radiation gave me super powers, he claimed. I could see through walls. I could see through him!
Can a partner be taught seduction “techniques”, including tenderness, playfulness, and patience? Some can. The best book I’ve ever seen on this subject, respectfully written with humor and sensitivity, is Guide to Getting It On, by Paul Joannides. Get it for your partner. Get it for yourself. (We may not be able to change our partners, but we can change ourselves.)
And finally, apply liberally! Sex is so much better with lubricant that even resisting partners (some take the need for lubricant as an implication of inadequacy) are soon convinced. I started with Astro-Glide years ago, when that was the only alternative to then-awful KY jelly. Astro-Glide was kept behind the counter of only certain drug stores and I had to ask for it. These days I prefer Wet, which, in my town, I find only at Rite Aid. Replens (expensive but worth it), used between times or during long dry periods, keeps things expectant. So get thee to the pharmacy, where lubricants are usually, these days, shelved with the condoms.
I can’t speak for the effects of chemotherapy, but I do know that there are countless ways for partners to play, physically and sexually, in addition to, and even instead of, intercourse. So hey, life is short. Go for it!