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Effect of cancer on sexuality

How cancer and its treatment can affect your sexuality

Some of the possible effects of cancer and its treatment on sexuality are described here. Later, we suggest some ways in which these problems can be overcome.

It is very difficult to accurately predict how cancer and its treatment will affect you, but some people may need to adapt to changes and develop new ways of giving and receiving sexual pleasure. Cancer does not mean your sexuality will be destroyed. With support and clear communication, you will often still be able to enjoy a fulfilling sex life.

There are four main ways that cancer or its treatment can affect your sexuality. It can affect your:

physical ability to give and receive sexual pleasure
thoughts and feeling about your body (body image)
feelings, such as fear, sadness, anger and joy
roles and relationships.

The links between these four areas are important. If there is a problem in one of them, it may have an impact on another.

When someone becomes ill, it can affect their ability to feel good about themselves sexually, or their physical ability to give and receive sexual pleasure. If this has happened to you or your partner, it might be helpful to understand that some changes will only be temporary. Even if the changes are long lasting, or permanent, you can find ways to adapt sexual techniques that are no longer possible or discover new ones. You can learn to feel good about yourself sexually despite the cancer and the possible side effects of the treatments.

Many people with cancer say that they feel washed out and almost completely without energy for many months or even years. This may be to do with the cancer itself, or sometimes the treatment. This tiredness can make people lose interest in sex during and after cancer treatment.

Mismatch in sex drive
In many relationships one partner may be more interested in sex than the other. Cancer can exaggerate this. If one partner has a change in their level of desire, this can be upsetting when there is the added complication of cancer.