Aug 31 2010
One of the questions I was asked after putting up the recent “questions” post was: “Since breasts are essentially secondary sex organs, do you find that your sexuality has changed since the surgery?”
I had an immediate response to this one, and another response after giving it some thought, I’ll share both here.
The immediate response was no, I don’t think my sexuality changed much due to the surgery and loss of breast. I think current stress in the family causing at least my husband to have a temporary libido decrease has affected my daily sexuality more than the surgery has. (Though we’re certainly doing what we can as energy levels permit, enjoyably!) I’ve certainly found that the cliché of an increased libido from the “new lease on life” effect of narrowly missing death has been reasonably true in my case; I’m interested in sex most days, though sometimes the physical energy doesn’t cooperate with the desire. I also find it easy to take care of those needs myself when a partner isn’t available, but that’s not much different from pre-cancer attitudes.
One thing that I think has drastically helped my new body-shape perception internally has been the across-the-board acceptance of how I look from family and friends. I’m told I look great, the scar is “neat” or “pretty”, and all of this matches how I feel. Certainly early on after surgery there were some body image issues coming up periodically for me, but they were much easier not to internalize as truth due to the awesome support I received.
Another thing that sounds opposite to the above but has still contributed to a very comfortable body image is my assumption that for MOST random strangers I will meet or encounter, I will be Other and not a sexually attractive being. Not only do we monkeys have a biological tendency to prefer symmetry of form, but our culture in America has an unhealthy obsession with mammary tissue. So I do tend to assume that most people will not be checking me out in a crowd. This perversely has freed me up to think about it even less than I did before — which wasn’t much — and dress how I please, look how I please, and walk as if I’m a gorgeous goddess even more easily than pre-cancer. I also tend to assume that anyone worth paying attention to will be able to see the attractiveness in front of them and not get fixated on blemish-free symmetry.
After some thought, I think a couple of things have changed. In general, I don’t really perceive breasts as sexual organs, though I’ll still notice with aesthetic appreciation someone with a particularly well-sculpted set. On the other hand, my husband is helping me explore sexualizing the ur-boob, touching it during shared intimacy as well as more casually in cuddling. I find this has done much good in assisting my subconscious to accept my new form.
These days I have a much more ambiguous relationship with the remaining breast than the mostly-missing one. How do you continue to love and accept a body part that you’re planning to remove before it tries to kill you? You can’t reject it outright while it’s still a part of you, or you’ll get alignment weirdnesses and messed up patterns of muscle tension and possible other health issues. However, you also can’t fully trust it, especially with the genetic component of cancer mutation present. Conditional acceptance of a body part is a strange thing to attempt healthily, for someone used to more comfort with my own body than that. It varies from day to day how well I do on that front.
I feel healthier than I have in years, which I’m told is fairly normal after a life-threatening health crisis — not the least of which is now I have more visceral motivation than most to get and stay healthier. That has certainly contributed to more emotional equilibrium as well as easier bounce-back from heightened emotional states. It also makes it practically much easier to make myself exercise and stay active even when I’m-tired-and-don’-wanna.
I have to assume all of these factors are contributing to my current healthy and vibrant libido as well as my available physical energy for daily activities which is still improving weekly. I’m well aware my experiences in this area are nothing like most people with breast cancer. It’s obvious from the available e-literature on the subject that most people are expected to be sexless and hate themselves post-mastectomy, or only feel better if they get reconstructive surgery. I don’t expect everyone to follow my lead, but I am here to tell you that those expectations aren’t inevitable.
More questions or thoughts? That was fun to think about!