Coping with the loss of a body part

Women who have lost a part of their body to cancer, especially if it’s a breast or part of the sexual organs, sometimes miss the pleasure they felt from having that area stroked during sex. If you are in this situation, ask your partner to stroke your whole body. You may find new places to replace the pleasure you used to feel. Women often are embarrassed to look at or touch their own private parts. But becoming more familiar with your body can be important in restoring your sexual pleasure after cancer treatment.

You can feel more comfortable about your genitals by taking some time to look at them and touch them. Have you ever looked at your own genitals in the mirror? Many women have not, or at least have never located the different parts. Take a few minutes to study your own body. Take a hand mirror and hold it so that you can see your genitals. Find the different parts: outer lips, inner lips, clitoris, urethra (urinary) opening, entrance to the vagina, and anus. Take a finger and lightly touch each part, touching the anus last to avoid spreading germs to the urethra. Which areas are most sensitive to touch?

Illustration showing the female genital area including the shaft of clitoris, outer lip, inner lip, clitoris, urethra opening, vagina opening and anus

A woman’s genital area

If you feel embarrassed or find your genitals ugly, try looking at them again in a day or so. Are your negative feelings as strong? Some artists have compared the shape of a woman’s genitals to a flower or a seashell. Can you see your genitals as having their own beauty? Has your cancer treatment changed the look of your outer genitals in any way? If so, make it a goal to get used to the changes and explore them with touch to see if any areas are still sore or tender.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: August 29, 2013 Last Revised: August 29, 2013

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