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Awkward Auntie Question No. 16

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Ever had a question about relationships or sex that you just can’t ask your oncology care provider?  Ever felt too shy to ask a nurse or doctor a question but really needed the answer?  Now you can ask those questions and get answers from Dr. Anne Katz, the Awkward Auntie!

Question:  hi there! I was diagnosed w/ breast cancer at the age of 28 and I’ve been married for almost 4 years. I have not had any reconstruction yet [following a double mastectomy] because I have to wait to heal from radiation. And I just have zero interest in being intimate w/ my husband because I no longer have breasts and obviously… during our hot and heavy moments, my chest was a spot that my husband enjoyed. I really dislike my body (I feel as though I look like a boy, hair is short from chemo and no breasts) so the thought of someone else touching and feeling my boy-like body turns me off. The one HUGE plus to all of this is there has been one night we did have sex and the next day my husband told me he is still attracted to me and he enjoyed our intimate time. I just don’t have any motivation and I want to give my husband that physicalness that we used to experience together. what should I do?!

Awkward Auntie:  Loss of sexual interest is a HUGE issue for many women treated for cancer (and many who have not had cancer too!). It is often related to physical changes – loss of breast(s), hair loss etc. as you describe so clearly but can also be related to chemo and other medications. We are increasingly aware of the idea of breast sensuality (the role that the breast(s) play in a woman’s arousal and sexual response) and that we need to acknowledge this both before and after treatment.

One thing to think about is that sexual desire does NOT need to come before you get something started – it is not a requirement for a satisfying sexual experience. Let me explain – many women (for all sorts of reasons) do not have spontaneous desire but rather start to feel desire once they are turned on by physical or verbal stimuli. So once you and your partner get things going, that is often when a woman feels reactive desire or interest.

One other thing to think about is something that we call ‘erotic empathy’. What that means is that if a partner shows or tells a woman that they are attracted to you (as your husband did), instead of thinking or saying “Ugh, how could he still want me or find me attractive/sexy?”, the woman should allow him to have those feelings and not negate them because the woman does not feel that way about her body. So erotic empathy allows the partner to think of the woman as sexy and the woman should understand and accept that those feelings are valid. This may help YOU feel better about yourself, even in just a tiny way. Your husband loves WHO you are, not just your body just as you love him with all his imperfections (most of us are not physically perfect after all!).

You can learn more about this great program, find the answers to past questions, and submit a question of your own by going here!

More about the Awkward Auntie program:

Dr. Anne Katz, also known as the Awkward Auntie, is a certified sexuality counselor and nurse who has written a couple of books about young adults and cancer – and all the things that happen to your body, relationships, and sex during and after treatment.  She will be answering any and all questions that you send to or that you submit in the form below. You don’t have to give your name or other identifying information – but it might be helpful for her to know how you identify yourself by gender, your age and what kind of cancer and treatment you had.

YOU CAN ASK HER ANYTHING…. Don’t hold back!  Your questions will be answered periodically and posted on our Awkward Auntie page.