The 411: Sex + Cancer Dating 101
The physical and emotional changes associated with breast cancer often alter the ways in which women relate to their bodies, including their sense of being a woman or a sexual being. Not surprisingly, these changes can also have an impact on how women approach dating and how they interact with prospective partners. Getting back into the dating scene can be intimidating for any single woman, but for women who’ve had breast cancer, it can feel even more daunting. When you’ve gone through breast cancer, you might be faced with questions and concerns about dating that you didn’t have to think about before. Women dealing with breast cancer might find themselves wondering how they measure up to other women in the same dating pool. They might question whether or not they are ready to date. There might also be some anxiety about talking to prospective partners about breast cancer, and how they might react. Women might also feel nervous and unsure about becoming physical with a new partner.
When it comes to breast cancer and dating, here are some common questions that women have, and some helpful tips for getting back into the game.
When is a good time to start dating after breast cancer, and how will I know I’m ready?
It takes a lot of courage to make the decision to start dating again, and there really is no rule-book when it comes to dating readiness. Knowing when you are ready to date is a personal decision. Some women actively date while still in treatment, others start dating as soon as they are done treatment, while others prefer to take some time to focus on themselves before they even consider the idea of dating.
When it comes to dating readiness, it all comes down to respecting your own vulnerabilities and comfort levels. By the same token, be mindful of the fact that you might never feel 100% ready.
Let this last point sink in…do we really need to be 100% certain and free of all doubt in order to make a change? When it comes to making life decisions like booking a vacation, changing jobs, moving to a new city, or buying a house, most people will say that they had some doubts or fears but took the leap anyways. Dating is no different.
When and how do I tell someone I’m dating about by breast cancer history?
When it comes to sharing their cancer stories, many women want to find the balance between not disclosing too soon and not waiting too long. Some women prefer to get it out in the open after a few dates, others prefer to wait a few weeks or even months until they feel comfortable with the person. When you are ready disclose, it is important to remember that this doesn’t need to be done all at once, and what you chose to share can be done one step at a time. Most people don’t share their entire life story on the first date; talking about breast cancer doesn’t need to be any different. The first step typically involves disclosing that one has had breast cancer. From there, the relationship can progress with a series of disclosures including treatment, the impact that breast cancer has had on you and your body, and how you envision yourself moving forward in a new relationship.
I’m ready to start getting physical. Now what?
In any new sexual relationship, it is important to know and respect to your own comfort levels and boundaries. Deciding when to have sex with a new partner is a personal decision. Getting physical can occur in stages, and what these stages look like is entirely up to you. Maybe this means not having intercourse right away and enjoying other sensual and sexual activities first. Maybe you prefer not to be seen or touched in certain areas.
Maybe you’d feel more comfortable with the lights off. When you do decide to have sex, give yourself permission to take things slow.
Cuddle. Get close. Prolong foreplay. Get reacquainted with your body and what feels good. Let your partner get acquainted with your body. This likely new territory for your partner as well, and he or she may need (and would likely welcome) some direction and feedback. It is important to talk about expectations, including comfort levels, pain, and any limitations. Don’t forget to talk about what feels good!
The “take homes” for taking someone new home
- When it comes to dating readiness, it’s all about knowing yourself and taking the leap when you are ready enough
- When it comes to talking about your breast cancer history, think about what you want to tell a prospective partner. What is important for him/her to know? What are you comfortable sharing? Is there anything you prefer not to share?
- The “when” is a personal choice and depends on a variety of factors including personal comfort, the prospective partner, and testing the waters of a relationship
- Practice what you want to say. Talk to a trusted friend or family member about it
- When it comes to getting physical, take things at your own pace. Why rush? Who doesn’t love a good make out session and some heavy petting?
- Listen to your body and don’t do anything you aren’t comfortable with
- Remember…Communication is key at every step of the way!
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Kim Cullen is a PhD candidate in Clinical Psychology whose research and clinical work has been dedicated to enhancing the sexual health and well-being of women with cancer. Through her work and public appearances, she hopes to empower women to openly discuss the impact of breast cancer on their sexual quality of life and is an advocate for the development of available resources to address these issues.