Can I have sex on cancer treatment?

It’s really important that you feel able to enjoy a normal life as much as possible. This includes sex as much as anything else. Cancer can make this a bit complicated, but you should feel you can crack on with enjoying yourself as much as you like.

Is it safe to have sex? 

If it feels ok, and you both want to, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t continue to have sex on treatment. It’s important to use a barrier method of contraception (e.g. condoms) to protect your partner, as some of the chemicals in chemotherapy might be passed on. It’s also important to avoid getting pregnant while you’re going through treatment.  

How does cancer affect sex? 

In some cases having cancer can make sex more difficult, at least for a while. If you’re staying in hospital – or have had to move back home, then it could be a challenge logistically.  

Medically, it might not be possible for one reason or another. Some symptoms of cancers and treatments can impact on sexual pleasure or performance.  

The most likely reason is that you just feel really tired and not in the mood, which is totally understandable. Some days you’ll be too exhausted to think about sex, let alone have it. Emotionally, you might feel low. If your body’s changed, you might be feeling low on self-esteem and confidence in how you look.  

If that’s the case, you might want to read more about body image and cancer treatment to learn more about dealing with side effects and to find ways to boost your self-esteem.

What if sex is painful? 

If it hurts, make sure that your partner is aware. Take time out and get some advice. Treatment can make your bits dry and sore but there are gels and lubricants that you can get your hands on either online, over the counter or via your medical team. Other treatment such as surgery can cause pain.  

Try taking painkillers about half an hour before you have sex to give them time to work. You could also explore less penetrative positions and use pillows to help support you. Make sure you keep on talking to your other half, and your hospital team for advice. 

What about oral sex? 

There is some concern that chemotherapy drugs can be found in bodily fluids including saliva and semen. Doctors usually recommend using a form of barrier contraception such as a condom or dam during oral sex. This minimises the chance of your partner being exposed to chemo.

If the idea of that doesn’t sound particularly erotic, then maybe just give it a rest for the time being.  

What else can I do? 

Listen to your body. Try to take your time and build up to it, or try positions that are less physically demanding. If you’re just not feeling it right now, then there shouldn’t be any pressure. You can find other ways to be intimate if you’re in a relationship.  

Talk to your partner. They should understand what’s going on in your body and your mind. Staying silent about sex (even if it’s a bit awkward) can cause more problems long term. Your partner might get the wrong end of the stick and could assume that you don’t want sex when you do, or might be concerned that you don’t find them physically attractive. Likewise, it’s important for you to get some reassurance too.  

Talk to someone else. The team looking after you at the hospital is there to help, and there’s nothing they won’t have heard before. It might feel seeerrrriously awkward opening up to people about something so intimate but they are there for you and your wellbeing.  

If you’re feeling down about yourself, read our tips on how to boost your body confidence. 

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