Communicating With Your Doctor About Sexuality

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You can do some things right now to make sex more physically comfortable and pleasurable. It makes sense to talk about any physical problems you are having with your doctor or nurse. Cancer treatment teams are being trained more and more on how to discuss and address sexual health issues. Still, research shows healthcare providers are not always ready to talk about sex with patients who are diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.

Although your oncology treatment team most likely knows that sex is important to the people they treat, they may avoid discussing it because it’s not their area of expertise or because they feel uncomfortable asking about it. Another reason may be priority: healthcare providers tend to be more focused on treating metastatic breast cancer than addressing sexual concerns.

So when it comes to talking about ways to make sex more comfortable, you may need to take the initiative. Here are some ways to start the conversation with your healthcare provider:

  • Make sure your healthcare provider understands that sex/intimacy is important to you. This way, she or he will place a higher priority on getting your needs addressed.
  • Be as specific as you can about your problems so that your healthcare provider is able to explore possible solutions. For example, “Since this course of chemo started, intercourse has been painful.”
  • Ask if your hospital or clinic has resources or referrals on sex and metastatic breast cancer. Some facilities can link patients to a host of helpful information and experts. You can also check resources such as the American Cancer Society’s Sex and the Woman With Cancer. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists also offers a tool that can locate professionals in your area.
  • Take it a step farther. “Healthcare providers commonly may ask if you are experiencing vaginal dryness or if sex hurts,” explains Sara McClelland, Ph.D., associate professor and researcher, University of Michigan. “These questions assume that sex is only happening via intercourse. Don’t stop there. Use it as an opportunity to discuss any other sexual matters that are coming up.”

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