Cancer treatments can cause physical and emotional changes that affect a person's sexuality. It is normal for both men and women to lose interest in sex while in treatment. There are ways to manage and reduce the impact of side effects that inhibit sexual activity.
Tell the doctor, nurse, or social worker if any of these symptoms occur:
- Fearfulness about sexual activity
- Men: Genital pain or pain during ejaculation
- Women: Dry vagina, abnormal discharge from the vagina, hot flashes, pain, discomfort, or bleeding after or during intercourse
What patients can do:
- Ask your health care team about how your treatment side effects may impact sexuality and/or your ability to have children. Knowing what to expect can help you prepare for and manage any issues.
- Remember you can still feel pleasure from touching. Few cancer treatments (other than those affecting some areas of the brain or spinal cord) damage the nerves and muscles involved in feeling pleasure from touch and reaching orgasm.
- Keep an open mind about ways to give and receive sexual pleasure. For people treated for cancer, there may be times when intercourse is not possible. You and your partner can help each other reach orgasm through touching and stroking. At times, just cuddling can be pleasure enough. You can also continue to enjoy touching yourself.
- Talk openly about sex with your partner. Good communication is the key to adjusting your sexual routine when cancer changes your body. Let your partner know how you are feeling and if any area of the body is tender or sore.
- Ask questions of your health care team. Although it may feel embarrassing, ask the doctor, nurse, or social worker about sexual activity and any questions or concerns you have. Seeing a medical provider, counselor, or therapist may help.
- Avoid sexual contact with people who have sexually transmitted diseases or infectious diseases (such as a cold, the flu, or cold sores).
- Ask your doctor or nurse about any concerns related to fertility.
- Empty the bladder before sexual activity.
- Find positions for sexual intimacy that are comfortable for both people and that avoid pressure on any painful or tender areas of the body.
- Take prescribed pain medicines an hour before sexual activity.
- Talk with your health care provider about acupuncture as a way to manage symptoms such as hot flashes. Watch our video or call or visit HCI's Wellness-Survivorship Center for more information about this treatment.
- Tell your doctor or nurse if there is any pain during sexual activity.
- Try new ways to give and receive sexual pleasure. Remember there may be times when intercourse is not possible, but touching, stroking, cuddling, and just being physically close can be pleasurable.
- Use a water-soluble lubricating gel to ease penetration.
- Wash hands before and after sexual activity.
- Do Kegel exercises regularly, which help strengthen and relax vaginal muscles. Ask the doctor for instructions.
- Feel adequately aroused before starting intercourse. This helps the vaginal muscles relax and expand.
- Talk with your doctor if signs of premature menopause occur (such as hot flashes, irritability, headaches, vaginal dryness, or decreased interest in sex). Some women benefit from hormone replacement therapy.
- Urinate after sex. This flushes out bacteria that may cause infection in the urinary tract.Wash hands before and after sexual activity.
- Do Kegel exercises regularly, which help strengthen the muscles involved in leakage of urine (incontinence). Ask your doctor for instructions.
- Talk with your doctor if symptoms such as loss of sexual desire, erection problems, trouble reaching orgasm, premature ejaculation, or pain occur. Your doctor can determine the cause and identify treatments and ways to help.