Can cancer affect sex?

Cancer is affecting my body in so many ways. Can it affect sex, too?

Advice columnist and relationship expert Matt Whyman answers:

You're going through a tough time right now, so it's really important that you feel able to enjoy a normal life as much as possible. This can apply to sex as much as anything else. In some cases having cancer can make sex more difficult, at least for a while. There may be medical reasons or you just might not feel like it with so much going on. Cancer and treatment can make you feel really tired, and sometimes decrease your sex drive

Is it safe to have sex?

If you have a sexual relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend, they might be worried about whether it is safe for you to have sex, if it will hurt you, or whether it's emotionally OK right now.

Support and advice is out there to help you manage any impact your illness or treatment may have. The best thing you can do is talk to someone on your care team. Pick the person you feel most comfortable with. It may feel like an awkward issue to raise, but your welfare is their priority. This means your happiness is as central to them as the effectiveness of your treatment.

Too embarassed to ask?

It might take some courage for you to ask questions about sex, but the response will prove you're not alone in dealing with this. At the very least, it'll be a weight off your mind and one less thing to worry about.

Bethany Scutt, a young people's social worker, has this advice: "The best thing to do is talk to a doctor or nurse you trust. They're really used to having these conversations, as it's obviously something most people need to talk about. It might feel embarrassing to you but they won't be embarrassed at all."

How cancer might affect sex

Consultant oncologist Dr Dan Yeomanson says: "Cancers in the pelvis, or treatment for them, may cause symptoms that impact on sexual pleasure. The emotional side of cancer might mean that a low mood, changed body image or anxiety are reducing your sex drive, making it more difficult to have an orgasm, or causing problems with erections. If you are concerned about these issues, don't hesitate to talk to your doctor or nurse."

Content last reviewed: October 2015

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