Managing Treatments

Sex During Cancer Treatment: What You and Your Partner Need to Know

Sex during cancer treatment can be a way to feel normal, loved and supported. Talk to your treatment team about intimacy issues you're experiencing.

Your cancer treatment affects many parts of your life, including the intimate moments. The more you and your partner know about sex during cancer treatment, however, the better you can prepare to make intimacy as pleasant as possible. It’s important to maintain good communication with your partner during your treatment, and for both of you to maintain an attitude of flexibility and understanding.

You should also communicate well with your doctors and nurses throughout treatment, and don’t be afraid to ask questions about any painful side effects. These professionals are here to help you in all facets of your life, and they will have valuable information that will make your experience better.

Women and Sex During Cancer Treatment

For women living with cancer and going through treatments, intimacy with a partner is an important part of maintaining a feeling of normalcy and support. There are some side effects of treatment that could make sex uncomfortable or even painful. According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common side effects that affect intimacy include loss of desire for sex, vaginal dryness, pain during intercourse and difficulty reaching climax.

When it comes to chemotherapy, loss of libido is most common. Between the nausea, fatigue and general weakness, most women find sex at the bottom of their priority list. During this time, focus instead on feeling better. Get plenty of rest and rely on more comfortable touch to show your partner love. Try holding hands or putting your head on your partner’s lap while you watch TV. Your partner will understand, and fortunately, after chemo treatments subside, your energy levels will increase and you can begin to experiment with intimacy again.

If you’re experiencing pain during sex, try to use over-the-counter products for more lubrication. This can help make intercourse more pleasant for you and your partner. However, if you continue to have pain, talk with your healthcare team and your partner to find other ways to be intimate. Your doctor may prescribe hormone treatments, or you and your partner can try other forms of intimacy and touch.

Men and Sex During Cancer Treatment

Men who are in the middle of cancer treatment can also experience side effects that affect their intimacy. The Mayo Clinic reports that the most common sexual side effects of cancer treatment are erectile dysfunction, difficulty climaxing, pain during sex, less interest in sex and feeling less attractive. These side effects, and others, vary based on the type of cancer and type of treatment; however, between chemotherapy treatments, radiation and pain medications, it’s common for men to struggle with physical intimacy during this time.

Fortunately, there are ways to work through these concerns. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of communication with your healthcare team and partner. If you’re embarrassed to ask questions and talk about your problems, you won’t be able to get the professional guidance that could make a big difference for you and your partner. Your doctor can reassure you that the side effects you’re feeling are normal and can offer advice (and even prescription medications) to help.

When you talk to your partner about it, be honest and open to trying new things. The feeling of intimacy doesn’t need to always stem from the act of sex, especially if that act is painful for you. Try new ways of touching one another that are pleasurable to both of you, and let your partner know what’s working and what isn’t.

Next Steps

Sex and intimacy are an important part of your life, and one that can remain a staple even through your cancer treatment. However, you will need open communication with your doctor as well as your partner. Beyond talking about your experience with your healthcare team, consider sharing your experiences with a cancer support group. Your peers will be able to validate your feelings and give ideas about what has worked for them.

This point in time is a difficult one. Take heart and know that it won’t last forever. You will find new ways to give you the closeness you desire.

Maintaining a sense of normalcy is especially challenging when you're going through cancer treatment. UVA Cancer Center has resources to help lessen the emotional burden.

Learn More
Haley Burress
Haley Burress