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March 20, 2008
My wife beat breast cancer five years ago. Brave, lovely, and lucky woman. But after the procedures, she said she was proud of her post-op look and the zigzag scar across her chest. No new boobs for her. Moi? I don't like going to bed with Peter Pan. We talked about this and she wants to stay scarred and boobless. I respect her wishes. It's her body... so no plastic surgery. But I get weirded out instead of excited every time I see her nude. Our love life has gone the way of her boobs and I feel as guilty as hell because I can't get over this.I Miss Her Boobs
I'm thinking the wife misses her boobs too, IMHB, but she's concluded that implants and reconstructive surgery aren't going to bring 'em back, only a potentially uncomfortable, thoroughly inadequate approximation of her boobs. But I can appreciate your frustration. If my boyfriend developed a life-threatening medical condition and getting breast implants was the only way to save his life, I would support him and hold his hand and go bra shopping for him while he recovered. But I would be just as weirded out by his body with boobs as you are by your wife's without.
But, um, that's really neither here nor there—there are no conditions that breast implants can cure (erectile dysfunction doesn't count)—and the analogy is totally offensive and I'm probably gonna have to disable my e-mail account for a week. Other offensive analogies spring instantly to mind—how would I feel if my boyfriend's ass imploded? how would I feel if he grew a mustache? how would I feel if his body changed as he aged and after a few decades together he wasn't the exact same 23-year-old club kid I picked up in that gay bar?—but seeing as none of that will ever happen, let's set these hypotheticals aside, shall we?
I'm vamping, IMHB, because there are no easy answers. One might hope that your love for the wife would trump your weirded-out feelings and you would come to appreciate the wife's boyish new body. Or her boy-with-large-zigzag-scar-running-across-her-chestish new body. One might also hope that your wife's feelings for you might prompt her to see her boobs as something that brought you joy, not just as the part of her body that attempted to kill her, and that she might be willing to get breast implants for your sake. Because although it's her body—and it is, it is—you also have a stake in it. Sometimes, you know, literally. Anyway...
But you can't get over it and she sees her new body—and perhaps the victory over death symbolized by those scars—as more important than your shared sex life. So you're at an impasse and the standard advice for couples at an impasse—compromise—just won't cut it. ("Maybe just one implant, honey? The left one was always my favorite....") The only other compromise is so obvious and unsatisfactory—would she consider wearing fake breasts to bed?—that you've probably already discussed and/or tried it. So, like, I'm really flailing. In fact, my flailing was so obvious that a coworker—a straight guy—noticed and asked what was up.
"Isn't that why God invented doggy-style?" he said, after I read him your letter. "Just man up and turn her over, dude."
That ain't much, I realize, but I'm afraid it's the best advice you're going to get today. Thank you for playing Savage Love, IMHB, and good luck.
I watched a video of your recent appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher and you appeared to be wearing a Queen's University jacket. I was a Queen's med school student and am now a doctor at the same university and have seen those jackets around for the past decade—where did you get that? Did you go to Queen's? Or are you just showing your loyalty to a country that recognizes your marriage?Kari At Queen's University
I did not attend Queen's University, KAQU. The jacket was a gift from a friend because... well, isn't it obvious?
And while we're on the subject of all things Canadian, I said something on Real Time that seems to have upset all those normally placid, easy-going French-speaking Canadians. While discussing the hyperreligiosity of the American electorate, I made this observation: "Australia got the convicts. Canada got the French. We got the Puritans. We're stuck with them."
"I was very pleased to see that you are putting French-Canadians on the same level as the Australian convicts," writes JNR of Montreal. "But please don't compare us to the Puritans."
For the record: It was a compliment, Quebec. What I meant, of course, was that Australia was lucky to get the convicts, Canada was lucky to get the French, while we got stuck with the fucking Puritans and their sex-hating, Jesus-freaking, GOP-voting descendants. In fact, I'll prove how much I love French-speaking Canada by offering English-speaking Canada this deal: The sane people in the United States will happily trade you the Bible Belt for Quebec. We'll take those contentious secessionist headaches off your hands, and all those bilingual street signs, if you'll take the 22 percent of our country that still believes George W. Bush is doing a good job. You get Mike Huckabee and Gary Bauer; we get Justin Trudeau and Antoine Vermette. We get your hot, uncut boys with sexy accents from Montreal; you get our slope-shouldered, slack-jawed yokels from Mississippi. Do we have a deal?
I love your column, and am sure you've already gotten a million e-mails about Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern and her hateful gay-bashing video on YouTube. She's deplorable and other people deserve to know about her hating ways.Justine
"I'm not anti, I'm not gay bashing," Sally Kern says on her now-infamous audio recording, before she goes on to say that gays are "the biggest threat that our nation has, even more so than terrorism. Or Islam, which I think is a big threat." Nice. Then after exposing early childhood education for what it is—a gay plot, dontcha know—Sally bemoans the fact that "gays are infiltrating city councils... they are winning elections!"
Decent folks are understandably angry with Ms. Kern. But instead of sending Sally an angry e-mail—excuse me, I mean in addition to sending her an angry e-mail (email@example.com)—make Sally's worst nightmares come true. Patrick Flaherty is running for alderman in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He's won an eight-way primary with 32 percent of the vote on February 19 and the general election is coming right up on April 1. If you're pissed at Sally Kern, don't just send her an angry e-mail. Help make her worst nightmares come true by sending a campaign contribution to Patrick Flaherty—who has been endorsed by Milwaukee's mayor, the Victory Fund, and others—by going to his website: www.patricknewleadership.com.
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Savage Love Extra
Tuesday 1, 2008
A thought for I Miss Her Boobs (hubby of breast-cancer survivor): Turn off the light.
As a woman, I think you went a tad too easy on IMHB's wife—understandably, though, given what she's been through. She had my total support UNTIL he mentioned that she will wear prosthetic breasts to formal functions. If she's doing that at his request, then fine, that's the best compromise she can make at this time. However, if she's doing it because she wants to look nice in front of others, then I have to wonder why she doesn't care more about looking nice in front of (and the associated emotional response of) her husband than a bunch of comparative strangers. Obviously, plastic surgery is surgery, so that is a difference. But it still seems an unfortunate place to stop caring about how one's physical appears affects others—not wrong, just misprioritized.
Just the thoughts of a woman who (fortunately)...
Hasn't Been There
IMHB and his wife should give fun and games with padded bras a try. Leaving an item of clothing or two on is kinda sexy anyway. And if she'll wear 'em to weddings, surely she'd consider wearing 'em to bed once in a while. It's temporary—she doesn't have to live with it all the time or deal with the surgical risks.
There are also fancier falsies available which, with a bra, might do the job a whole lot better for him. With any luck she'll be okay with that on a regular basis. But if we view this as his kink, then he should consider offering to follow your "one time out of three" rule.
Philly Reader Illuminates Common Kink
I'm not going to bother pointing out IMHB's obvious character flaws, nor am I going to berate you for your response. There will be plenty of that going on without me chiming in.
What I do want to say is that my sister-in-law went through the same ordeal, only in her case she opted for the reconstructive surgery. After more than a year of fighting recurring infections, she died of a stroke—brought on I'm sure as a complication of all the crap that had been done to her.
My wife and I have talked it over, and if she ever (dog forbid) has to go through a mastectomy, there is no way I will support her having reconstructive surgery afterward.
Still Her Brother-In-Law
Breast cancer runs in my family, and as a busty chick, I've often wondered whether or not I'd go for reconstructive surgery if I lost one or both of the girls. There is a potential compromise, however, that wasn't mentioned. Mastectomy bras and lingerie have come a long way in recent years, as have external silicone falsies to put in said lingerie. Sure, it won't provide the skin-on-skin contact Mr. I Miss Her Boobs is used to, but if he can broach the subject without making his wife feel like she's undesirable without her breasts, her wearing implants in something sexy to bed could at least offer something soft and squeezable.
Counting Her Blessings
As a breast-cancer survivor who did the breast reconstruction and now wishes she didn't, I have to speak up for the wife of IMHB. Implants are painful to get (the expansion process is hell) and need to be replaced every 10 years or less, are uncomfortable, expensive, and don't even look so great naked (at least mine don't). Aside from all that, there is no sexual sensation in the implants for the woman. What is gone is gone, and for IMHB to resent his wife (and yes I think he does, a tiny bit) for not going through a painful and potentially dangerous surgical process for his visual sexual stimulation is, well, rude. I think you nailed it, Dan, when you said this about your partner: "How would I feel if his body changed as he aged and after a few decades together he wasn't the exact same 23-year-old club kid I picked up in that gay bar?"
IMHB needs to be GGG and either close his eyes, turn her over, or duh, realize that he loves this woman and get over his homophobic fears that no boobs = boy. If IMHB doesn't do that, then there is always the possibility that one day his wife will find someone who recognizes her for the strong courageous woman that she is, finds that a tremendous turn-on, and leaves him.
With Implants But Regrets It
I wonder if IMHB has seen nude mastectomy patients who have gotten breast implants? Like very flat-chested women who get extremely large implants, the lack of skin and tissue means the new boobs are very definitely not real boobs—they don't move or feel like them, and it's pretty evident that they're fake. They will help your clothes fit as they did on your premastectomy body, but won't fool a sex partner (at least one who knows what real and fake boobs look like). And if the woman's nipples were removed, the doctor has to make new ones, including tattooing the areola. The guy is hoping his wife's body will look the way it once did—and it never will. I understand his dismay, but if she can learn to accept it (I guarantee you this was a bigger crisis for her), so can he.
With all due respect, I have to tell you that you made a bad call when it came to I Miss Her Boobs! My wife had breast cancer, lost a breast, and later died of this terrible disease. I think that the way for IMHB to "man up" is to realize that his wife is a human being and there is a lot more to her than breasts. After my wife had her mastectomy, I used to kiss her scar like nothing was different. She reported to me that she still had erotic sensations as a result. Odds are that you could lose a testicle to cancer, how would you like it if your lover shunned you as a result? So the answer to this situation is to quit being so dammed shallow and give your wife the love and support that she must need at this time.
G. Cant-Think-Of-A-Clever-Signature Williams
IMHB is full of it. I'm 30 and my young wife has beat breast cancer, too, after loosing a boob, and her hair and some dignity with chemo. But let's be clear—and most survivors I've met would agree—it is a fucking appendage of skin. There is no way IMHB has let his love life tank because of 500g of glandular fat. He's either scared shitless of future malignancy/metastasis or he had pre-existing doubts about his wife way before the big C came along and is looking for a way out.
In any case, while he is in denial, some specific sex advice may help his sorry ass. The only way for him not to feel weirded out (and thereby decrease the guilty feeling that follows) is to accept her scars as the new norm. Touch the scars, fondle them often. This is part of your new, and better, wife. Take some tasteful topless pictures of them. Lick chocolate off them. Come on them for fuck sake (trust me, it's therapeutic!). These scars symbolize your battle—both yours and your wife's—and every time you see them, try thinking about how lucky you both are. Your wife already does—and that's probably why she does not want fake replacements.
I'm Glad She's Here
Were details of IMHB's backstory edited out of the letter that appeared? Stuff like, "We have attended postmastectomy support groups and know we are not the only couple who faces this difficulty." Or "We have seen a highly recommended and experienced couples therapist to try to work on this." Or "My wife and I spend quality time together, and together we have tried to find a way to solve this seemingly insurmountable problem."
My discomfort with the letter is that this husband apparently thought that writing to you for advice was a better idea than trying to work this out with his wife with the aid of more appropriate professional help. Could he be, in a not very subtle way, asking for your permission to fool around on his wife? Again, why ask you?
Here is my experience. My husband, who I fell in love with and married when he was a man, has, since our marriage, transitioned to living as a woman. I like men. I like chest hair. I like deep voices. I like tiny nippled man-boobs. He grew alarming boobs with the help of hormones. Adolescent girl boobs. I am not interested in adolescent girl boobs. As I mentioned, I like men. I still miss his man-body. But I love him and I like living with him. We sought professional help to deal with and resolve my lowered desire and lust for his new body parts. It has been extremely helpful in many ways beyond the adjustment to adolescent girl boobs. (I do not equate the transition from man to transwoman with surviving breast cancer. But a partner's discomfort with the other partner's body is the outcome we might have in common.)
It sounds to me like there is more to this story and that the husband has other issues beyond missing his wife's boobs and dealing with his alleged guilt about not getting over it. It's been five years. If he wanted to get over it, he would have started working on it before this. And not by sending a letter to a famous sex-advice columnist.
No Longer Missing His Old Boobs
I am in a similar situation to I Miss Her Boobs in that my wife had breast cancer, has not had reconstructive surgery, and our sex life has dropped to zero. My question is why your response to IMHB didn't recommend that he get a little on the side and otherwise stand by his wife. This seems to be a fairly standard piece of advice you give for people who are in sexually unsatisfying relationships, but you didn't go down that road in this situation.
I take it that you say this when a partner is voluntarily not meeting the needs of the other one sexually (not rendered unattractive for a medically life-saving procedure). But still, abandoning my cancer-stricken wife (and two kids) seems pretty low, asking her to have surgery for my sexual satisfaction also seems a little much, and living without sex seems beyond my level of willpower.
I should also mention that while my wife would be willing to have sex with me, she doesn't seem to have any issues with our current no-sex arrangement (most likely as she is now often quite fatigued).
Also Missing Her Boobs
My mom had breast cancer twice during my late adolescence and early college years, and while the first time they performed lumpectomies (where they just remove the cancer tissue), the second time they decided to do a mastectomy on her left breast. My mom always had a small rack, and was crushed to lose, as she put it, "what little" she had. I overheard a conversation between my parents around that time, where my mom asked my dad if he'd still find her attractive with only one boob. He answered, "Always." It was very tender and all that shit, and while of course I have no idea what goes on in my parents' bedroom, I always thought it was a nice answer.
After a fairly short period (a couple months?) of self-reflection, my mom elected to get an implant anyway, and it was a disaster. Even though she went to a highly accredited plastic surgeon and took good care of herself, she suffered an infection from the process that nearly killed her—she was in the hospital for about a month, I had the horrible experience at 18 of seeing my mother half-conscious and drooling on morphine, and the implant had to be removed anyway in the end. Her scar tissue is at least double the size it was when she first had the mastectomy, and she's even more self-conscious about her body than she was when she went in for the first procedure.
So I just wanted to amend your advice to IMHB: He and his wife should inform themselves—TOGETHER—of the risks involved in getting implants. Chances are, he won't like the odds. I know it sucks to be told that you love and are fucking someone who looks a lot different than the person you signed up to love and fuck, but better to be fucking her alive and titless than dead.
Her Mother's Daughter
IMHB and his wife are far from the first people to have to deal with this. If doggy-style works for them, that's great, but if not, there are resources available to help them.
1. The American Cancer Society has a lot of information on its website (www.cancer.org) on cancer and sexuality. They also have a publication, Couples Confronting Cancer, which might be helpful. And they have information on local support groups—IMHB or his wife can call the 24-hour hotline (1-800-ACS-2345) or send an e-mail through the website. They're really an excellent resource with tons of info.
2. The Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization has a 24-hour hotline staffed by peer counselors who are cancer survivors. Even better, they have a partner match program, so IMHB can talk to someone who's been in his situation.
3. Marriage counselor/sex therapist. Pretty self-explanatory.
IMHB obviously cares for his wife very much, but as we've seen time and again in your column, you can't change what gets you hot just by force of will. If this were an easy thing for people to deal with, there wouldn't be marriage counselors or cancer support groups or any of that. This is clearly more than they can handle on their own, so maybe it's time to ask for assistance.
I, too, have survived breast cancer. And our sex life has suffered because of it. I only had a lumpectomy, not a mastectomy, and I had reconstruction. I still hate them and find them, and my entire body, at least as repulsive as IMHB finds his wife's scars. I wish I could feel as good about my own body as she does about hers. I won't take my clothes off in front of my husband anymore. I know it's me, but I still feel completely humiliated. I'm afraid it will be years before I get over it, if ever. (It's been four years since my diagnosis.) I honestly don't know how any woman can live peacefully with a mastectomy. I envy women who can. I still think, if I ever faced such a choice, that I would choose death over mastectomy any day. I don't know for sure, of course. No one does, until actually confronted with the issue. (And yes, I get therapy and have since I was diagnosed.) You were certainly correct in stating that his wife misses her breasts, too, Dan. But I disagree with you when you say that he has a stake in her body, too, and maybe she should consider reconstruction for his sake.
Breast-reconstruction surgery doesn't give a woman breasts. BRS can only give a woman lumps on her chest where her breasts used to be, so that she looks more or less normal in clothing. These lumps are entirely numb, and should they ever regain any sensation at all, it will not be erotic sensation, only perception between hot and cold, or some vague awareness of touch (similar to the way you feel if someone touches your arm or leg). And they won't have nipples, unless she has even more surgeries. Those reconstructed "nipples" have no sensation, either. Either IMHB doesn't know this ( presumably because he never bothered to do any research) or he knows this and doesn't care. In other words, IMHB wants his wife to undergo the pain, expense, risk of death, and/or surgical complications of BRS, so that he can enjoy her body and so that he can touch her "breasts" again. There is literally nothing in it for her, except not having to bother with prostheses, which she may or may not use now. He has no right at all to request such a thing of any woman he loves. Doing it doggy-style won't solve IMHB's problems, either. Trust me, his wife will know it's because he finds her unattractive.
In other words, the entire issue is with IMHB, not his wife. He needs therapy yesterday.
Sad And Strong Survivor, Yearning Because It Truly Can't Happen
I miss my boobs, too, and so does my husband. I was unable to have reconstructive surgery for financial reasons, and have since found out that it is not just a lengthy and painful process, but it can also be very dangerous. I wear fake boobs daily because I really wanted to at least look girly in my clothes, but I wear a camisole to bed at night. He was a little sad when the "twins" were removed, but he was much happier that I wasn't removed. Anyway, your straight friend was right, this guy just needs to be a man and pony up for his wife. It isn't all about the boobs.
Boobless Women Unite!
I'm sure you got some flak for your admittedly lame advice to IMHB. Here is what this guy really needs to hear, from someone whose wife also had radical surgery after breast cancer. Grow the fuck up. Sex is not all about how someone looks. If you think it is, then just get a picture and jerk off. Sex is about how someone moves, what they say, how they look in your eyes, how they please you, how they accept pleasure. The sexiest part of a woman isn't her boobs, it's her brain. It's about connection, and corny as it sounds, love. You think ugly people shouldn't or don't have sex? Think again. If you think sex is all about body parts, then get a blow-up doll or a hooker. Instead, you could think of this as your big chance to explore what else sex could be besides playing with boobs. Sure, you need time to grieve for the changes in your partner's body, but believe me, there is a whole universe of sex out there apart from boobs.