“No Matter What” Kind of Sex


Remember earlier I told you that research shows us that nearly 3 out of 4 marriages end in divorce when a woman becomes seriously ill? Other research might also help to explain why some marriages can’t survive the “worse” in those for-better-or-worse marriage vows.

I spent the better part of two years studying what happens to a woman’s body image and sexual response following a breast cancer diagnosis and/or a mastectomy. Like many other researchers before me, I found that breast cancer is intricately linked to body image in some way for most women (in 93 of the 110 women I studied).

When I did my PhD internship at a breast cancer center, I discovered that the breasts-are-sexuality-femininity connection for women is so significant that many women who needed a mastectomy yesterday to save their lives, refused to do so—primarily because they were so afraid that losing a breast (or breasts) meant that they would also lose their sexuality and femininity. Or their husband.

I vividly recall when one woman in her 30s looked at her husband in desperation and said, “Will you still love me if I’m not pretty?”

But losing a breast isn’t just about appearance and sex to women—it’s about a sense of being whole, about self-esteem, about body image….essentially, it’s about losing their identity.

(WARNING: You are about to see photographs of post-mastectomy women. Please do not read further if you believe these images will disturb you or cause uneasiness.

I include these images so that you can see the reality of breast cancer, and why recovering physically, mentally, and emotionally can be a very, very long process. I also include the images so that you can see why it’s so tough for marriages and sex to survive after an illness like this—and why teaching women to be sexual objects for their husbands can be potentially dangerous to their marriages.)

Forty years of breast cancer research tells us about the emotional aftermath of mastectomy. It’s very common for a woman to experience

  • Embarrassment about undressing
  • Embarrassment about exposing her body to her husband or intimate partner
  • Discomfort in looking at, showing, or touching her scars
  • Unease at looking at herself in the mirror
  • A poor self-image, poor self-esteem
  • Relationship problems
  • Lower self-worth because of feeling unattractive.

Sexually, common impacts for her include

  • Altered sexual function (chemotherapy may alter her body in such a way that she experiences menopause symptoms; certain treatments may also cause vaginal dryness, and discomfort or pain during intercourse)
  • Poor self-image
  • Less interest in sex
  • Sexual relationship problems (she is often less sexually responsive, and sexual frequency almost always declines).

Do you see what I’m trying to say? There are a lot of dangers in teaching young couples that stripper-lingerie-lap-dance-every-night kind of sex is the best thing on the planet.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for women embracing their inner Gypsy Rose Lee and men finding and expressing their inner Chippendale dancer! I’m all for being sensual and delicious and enticing and sexy and oh-so-erotic and desirable and impossible to resist!

BUT only when “that” kind of sex is a part of real sex. Only when “that” kind of sex is just one aspect of who that couple is sexually.

Don’t you want real sex in your relationship? Not the kind of sex that you have every night no matter what—but the no matter what kind of sex you have because you can’t make it through another minute without clinging to your lover.

Real sex.

Okay, be honest with me. Does anyone else see the potential dangers of “that” kind of sex, if that’s the only kind of sex someone has? Or am I just reading too much into it?

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