This blog was originally published by Everyday Health by Diana Rodriguez on February 2, 2010, here.
You can still experience intimacy while undergoing cancer treatment. Understanding the changes you may be experiencing will help ease concerns about your sexuality.
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
Cancer treatment can have a huge impact on every aspect of your life, including your sex life. Although intimacy and sexuality may not be top priorities for cancer patients at first, as cancer treatment goes on, it’s likely to become an issue in your relationship. If you’re prepared for some possible changes in your body and your libido, you won’t be surprised by changes in your sex life.
Cancer and Sexuality: Intimacy Issues for Men
Cancer treatment may result in a number of different side effects, which will vary from person to person depending on the type of cancer and type of cancer treatment. Common sexual side effects that male cancer patients may experience during or following treatment include:
- Low libido
- Genital pain
- Reaching orgasm too quickly
- Nausea, fatigue, pain, and depression that can lead to sexual problems or loss of interest
- Anxiety or concern about intimacy and sexuality, such as how you will perform or how you look
- Inability to release semen during orgasm
- Erectile dysfunction
- Low libido
- Vaginal dryness
- Pain during intercourse
- Tightening of the vaginal muscles, preventing intercourse
- Infertility and early menopause
- Possible inability to have an orgasm if treatment has affected the spinal cord
For both men and women, some issues may only be temporary, like low libido and pain during intercourse. Other problems, like infertility, can be permanent. It’s important to discuss these potential long-term issues with your partner and your doctor to find out what can be done to alleviate them or find alternatives, like adoption or freezing eggs or sperm in case of infertility.
Cancer and Sexuality: Preparation and Communication
Many cancer patients may be unprepared for changes in their sexuality and sex life during or after cancer treatment, making these side effects or sexual problems more difficult to address. Before you undergo cancer treatment, talk to your doctor about possible long-term sexual side effects that you can anticipate and what steps can be taken to remedy them.
As you re-engage in sexual relations, be open to new types of sexual contact as well as new positions that may make intimacy more comfortable as well as more pleasurable. Keep in mind that you may need products like vaginal lubricant or moisturizer to help with intercourse.
A healthy sex life is an important part of a healthy relationship, but it is only one part. Communication is also necessary. Worrying about your sex life may only make any problems worse, so talk to your partner about your fears, concerns, and limitations. Realize, too, that there may have been problem issues in your sex life before you received a cancer diagnosis — your relationship might benefit from addressing any prior concerns now, as you and your partner return to intimacy.