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Let’s Talk About IT: Looking Back, Facing Forward part 5

Many of us modest ladies likely avoid it under normal circumstances, but when we’re faced with possibly altering our lady parts, we HAVE to talk about IT! Honestly, I feel very shy discussing sexual stuff of any kind, yet when I was diagnosed with the BRCA2 genetic mutation, questions about the future of my sex life swirled around in my mind like an exotic pole dancer.

When monitoring their BRCA status, women can engage in their regular intimacy routine. However, when women surgically remove or alter their breasts and/or ovaries, it can feel as though everything is different in the bedroom (or where ever you choose to have sex).

How soon after surgeries can I have sex?

I couldn’t even fathom having sex for months following my Bilateral mastectomy/DIEP Flap reconstruction surgery! I don’t remember any restrictions given, except about avoiding certain movements. Of course, others are ready to go much sooner than I was. Plus, hysterectomy-type surgeries lead to different limitations.

Be sure to follow your doctor’s post-operative instructions–varying between 4-6 weeks–to prevent complications in your healing. If you or your partner are feelin’ the call, remember that there are other fun ways to play without intercourse. This reminds me that I just read a memoir where a woman was in a full body cast following a car accident, and became pregnant. The baby ended up with lots of problems mainly due to high doses of pain medications (and lack of space to grow). Does that help you abstain? 😉 Of course, if you just removed your ovaries, I suppose that you are good to go!

When the weeks finally pass, be sure to start slowly, until it feels comfortable for you.

How can I prevent dryness, if I can’t take hormones?

With a family history of breast cancers that are estrogen positive, we have been told from generations of doctors–since the 1950s–”no hormones for you…ever!” Now what? How do we deal with menopause due to age or a surgical supingal oophorectomy?

After attending the Looking Back, Facing Forward Boston BRCA conference, I was able to catch a break-out session with Dr. Sharon Bober, Director of Dana Farber’s Sexual Health Program. By the way, this conference was nearly two years ago and I am just writing about this now. See? IT is not an easy topic to discuss. She did share some very helpful suggestions, so I decided to go for it:

  • Vaginal health incorporates: moisture, stretch & blood flow
  • Moisturize your vagina like you do your face, before bedtime 3-5x/week
  • Use only water-based, glycerin-free, perfume-free products
  • Muscle toning like strengthening the pelvic floor with kegel exercises is super important
  • Lastly, for those of us who cannot use estrogen, she reported about a product called Hyalo Gyn, which seems to work well for her patients.

Most importantly, think and speak positively about your body. It has been through some big changes and works miraculously for you every single day.

Will I ever enjoy sex again? Will I be able to orgasm??

There IT is. The question that nearly every BRCA positive woman wonders, yet is often too embarrassed to ask! I know that this was a very real, very big worry for me.

According to thousands of women around the world, the answer to that question is as unique as each woman. Some say sex is worse, some say that sex is better than ever; and still others share problems including pain, dryness and lack of desire.

Prior to my prophylactic bilateral mastectomy, I was petrified by the thought of never having an orgasm again, for I personally relied heavily on my nipples for sexual stimulation. When they were surgically removed, I was completely grateful that pleasure was still possible.

Luckily, there is help out there. If you’re struggling with sex after surgeries due to your BRCA gene mutation or cancer, contact Dana Farber at 617-632-4523 or sexualhealthprogram@dfci.harvard.edu