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I think I have mentioned before that I am a member of a facebook group for people with or who have had breast cancer. It is a place where people support each other through treatment and recovery, recurrence and general daily life. People who are struggling with problems they can’t speak to loved ones about. Of course, there are positive posts too, news of a wedding, baby, new house, new relationship. One thing has struck me though. While people will happily describe the symptoms of their cancer or side effects of treatment in graphic detail, often including photos. They skirt around sex and relationships in the most interesting way. Breast cancer can play havoc with your sex life. But sadly it seems that the word sex is pretty much unmentionable.

Sex as a taboo subject

I wonder how many people talk to their friends about their sex lives. It is easy to sit here as part of a sex blogging community and imagine that every one does it. But in reality they don’t. Indeed I don’t discuss my sex life with people I know, but then I also don’t have a close friend to confide in. But if I did, would I? This spot on the internet is a safe place, most of us are anonymous to a greater or lesser degree. I find it much easier to describe my most intimate moments on my blog than to describe them in public.

But I have no qualms about using the actual words for what I am trying to say. I wouldn’t act like some 70’s sitcom cast member and wink or blush if I needed to say the word sex. I prefer to use proper anatomical names rather than a euphemism. And certainly if someone asks a question on an online forum then I am going to answer with reference to the actual word.

I actually think the lady was brave to raise an unmentionable topic

Even though she referred to sex as ‘being intimate’. Indeed she might not have meant sex, she may have meant that she didn’t want her partner to see her naked. But unfortunately everyone who responded skirted around the topic in the same way she had. Mentioning relationship issues and the fact that the tablets they were taking had stopped them feeling like letting their partner close.

Further conversation though identified her actual issue. She was frightened that if she became aroused and orgasmed then the hormones would make her cancer worse. This is because like mine, her cancer is hormone dependent. So she had put 2 and 2 together and made 22.

I and another lady were able to reassure her that the hormones we produce during sexual pleasure will not affect or cause breast cancer. But I wonder why it is left to an online forum of peers to impart this information. It does feel like a reasonable assumption to make when people vaguely refer to hormones.

Mentioning the unmentionable

Sex is such a difficult topic to raise as a patient. In the mix of surgery, treatment options and general issues of body image, sex is pretty much no where. As a nurse I found it a challenge to discuss with my patients too, though I did. In my last clinical role, I worked with people with rheumatoid arthritis, often with young women. Being able to find a comfortable position, dealing with the side effects of treatment and general tiredness and pain were all factors. So I made myself ask the unmentionable questions, even though I’d really rather have not.

Society in general would rather people didn’t mention sex or their sex lives. But if we are to move away from sex as taboo we need to start somewhere. I guess an online forum for people with breast cancer is as good a place as any to start.

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20 thoughts on “Unmentionable”

  1. Very important post. Cancer or not so much could be gained by open discussion of our sexual needs, wants, fears, etc. if only among our friends. Unfortunately it is still pretty much taboo.

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  7. As the husband of a woman who has battled breast cancer twice, dealt with a series of piss poor reconstructions, and lives each day with the fear of its return, I find your emphasis on “sex” to be repulsive. Is this all you people think about? How to get off? Why don’t you deal with what really matters, instead of devoting so much time to something that means so little. Live is so much more important than you perpetual emphasis on orgasms

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  13. Wayne. I thought long and hard before publishing your comment, as I know you troll my friends and are often unpleasant. I am sorry your wife has been through such an awful experience. However you miss the point here. My post is about the fact that women want to talk about sex after breast cancer, but find it difficult to talk about. If you paid closer attention to my writing you would know that orgasms are not central to me or who I am. Plus you would be kinder given that I have struggled to deal with my own body image post breast cancer. However I wish you well.

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