Redefining Intimacy

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While many people believe the word “intimacy” means sexual intercourse, sex is only one aspect of intimacy. Affection, honesty, closeness, and a sense of safety are also part of intimacy.

Living with a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis can create new physical challenges and bring up feelings that can interfere with intimacy. Redefining your expectations about sexual desire and clearly communicating your needs can take some of the pressure off.

True closeness in couples can happen in many ways. Sexual encounters are fleeting, but the emotionally close connections you develop with your partner, friends, and loved ones are the connections that endure.

“Intimacy is having a deep connection with someone or something, having gratitude for it, and deciding we want to put energy into it,” explains psychotherapist psychotherapist Kelly Grosklags. “It may have nothing to do with sex. Most intimate connections are like the infinity sign -- with energy going back and forth between the two people.”

Sometimes, the bond that sex typically strengthens can also be bolstered in other ways -- by spending time together, having an honest conversation, or by non-sexual touching and caressing.

Be sure to talk about intimacy with your partner, even if it may seem a bit awkward at first. Here are some tips to help you figure out what intimacy means to you:

  • Think about the most meaningful connections in your life. What makes them meaningful? Connections may be with your partner, a family member, a friend, or even a pet.
  • What do you need? Ask yourself what you need right now, not what your 20-year-old self needed or what you needed before a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis. Do you need, for example, a hug? A tender kiss? A caress? A belly-busting joke? Encouraging words? Quiet time listening to music together? A vacation getaway to a sunny spot?
  • Ask your partner what he or she needs, too. Listen, and try to hear what he/she is saying without judging. Then assess what you are able to give to your partner right now -- for example, a sensual massage, a playful tickle, a cuddle, or a heartfelt compliment.

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