October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to promote awareness about the effects of breast cancer and reduce the stigma associated with the disease via education about symptoms and treatment. Here at Sportsheets, we wanted to have this vital discussion in two ways: first, to make you aware of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, including how to check yourself for cancer symptoms. Second, the ways in which people with breast cancer can still thrive in their sex lives.
Sex and disability aren’t mutually exclusive, so the presence of breast cancer symptoms, including breast pain, does not necessarily mean that someone cannot manage to (or does not want to) have sex. In fact, for many, sexual activities can be an incredible way for folx to truly feel like themselves and express their wants and needs.
Let’s talk breast health
Preventing breast cancer
While there is no guaranteed way to prevent breast cancer, you can follow some tips to live a healthier life and decrease the likelihood of developing the disease. Keeping to a healthy weight and staying physically active can be an excellent method, as is eating healthy (plenty of fruits and vegetables while avoiding excessive consumption of alcohol). Smoking, taking birth control after the age of 35, and post-menopausal hormones are also factors that can contribute to the development of breast cancer.
Don’t just check your breasts once each October during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, when you’re sporting your breast cancer ribbon. At least once a month, feel around for a lump in the breast, for any breast pain or tenderness, and then view yourself in a mirror for any visual changes from your last self-check. Dimpling, puckering, redness, or scaling are visible symptoms, as are changes to the coloring, shape, and direction that your nipples point (for example, it begins to turn inward). If you menstruate, ensure that this test is done a few days after your cycle so that the breasts are not swollen or tender from your period.
Remember that breast cancer in men is possible, as it is in anyone with a penis. Self-checks are consequently important for everyone to practice.
When to see a doctor
Vagina owners should go for routine mammograms at the age of 50 (every one to two years), even if no symptoms are showing. This age can be younger if there is a family history of breast cancer, typically testing ten years before the age that the family member was first diagnosed.
However, when one or more symptoms arise, we recommend getting in touch quickly with your doctor for the appropriate assessments, even if you are not due for a mammogram. If present, a doctor can then diagnose cancer from this point, determining the best course of action going forward, with your health in mind.
How do I enjoy sex during the various stages of cancer?
This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we want to make it clear that throughout the various stages of cancer post-diagnosis, folx with breast cancer can (and often do) still want to enjoy sex. There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ time to get back into sex after a diagnosis, and it truly depends on what each person feels comfortable with. As with any situation, communication in sexual relationships is necessary and explicit consent is needed before any sexual act.
Breast cancer causes your body to slow down; many things take longer, including being interested in, initiating, and finishing sexual intercourse. Having sex can also potentially be painful or uncomfortable, which can negatively impact a person’s libido. If you’re ready to have sex, there are some things to keep in mind.
A breast cancer diagnosis can affect body image, both from the symptoms associated with breast cancer and the treatment needed. In particular, a person may feel self-conscious about their breasts and how they appear, including if a mastectomy is required (the partial or total removal of one or both breasts as a treatment for breast cancer). Likely, someone else has similar feelings and experiences regarding their own breast cancer diagnosis. Speaking to others with the same disease in a support group can be a great way to work through these emotions while feeling understood.
Because every person is unique, there is no ‘best approach’ to sex. The key is to reduce discomfort during sex, whether that’s physical or emotional. For some, this can be testing BDSM limits and using added pain to experience pleasure, whether with spanking or devices like floggers, paddles, and whips. For others, it’s exclusively using sex toys, such as vibrators for couples, to seek eroticism and orgasms without another person’s genitals. Others still prefer turning themselves on through masturbation, manually or with sex toys. Just remember to keep an open line of communication with your partner(s), get consent, and keep it real in the bedroom.
Only do what feels right for you.
As we draw attention to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s essential to recognize that this goes beyond simply wearing a breast cancer ribbon and calling it a day. It’s about becoming aware of the signs and symptoms of the disease, ensuring that you check yourself regularly, and taking action to seek a medical opinion if any red flags arise. Of course, going for routine check-ups and tests is also crucial to early diagnosis.
We hope, too, that this article has quashed the myths about sexuality and disability, particularly people’s perspectives on folx experiencing cancer symptoms. Whether it’s metastatic breast cancer, fibroadenoma, or another form of cancer in the breast, it’s vital to be aware that you can still be a sexual being. While symptoms such as breast pain can certainly hinder someone experiencing breast cancer, it does not mean that they no longer desire sexual activities.
Will you be proudly wearing your breast cancer ribbon this month in support of those who have been diagnosed? What do you know about taking care of your breast health and the stages of cancer? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.