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Below you'll find some common questions that people ask about sexual issues and cancer.
Not in the strictest sense of the word. In practical terms, the development of some types of cancer may be influenced by a virus that is passed from one person to another during sex.
Cancers of the cervix|, vulva|, penis| and some mouth cancers| are more likely to occur in people who have the human papilloma virus (HPV|), which is transmitted through sexual contact. However, HPV is very common and most people who have it don’t develop cancer as a result.
There are many factors other than the virus that can increase the risk of developing cancer, such as:
These factors can influence whether or not an infection with a virus will affect the development of a cancer. However, some people still see sex as 'bad' or 'sinful' and at some unconscious level worry that their cancer may be punishment for some past 'sin'. If you feel worried or guilty about your cancer having been given to you as a punishment, then it can be helpful to talk this through with a religious or spiritual advisor, a counsellor or one of our cancer support specialists.
No. If your partner has a cancer, you can’t catch it from any sexual activity. You can’t catch cancer by having sex.
No. In fact, sex and all the love and caring that goes with it can be helpful to people who have cancer. Many people feel depressed, unlovable, guilty or afraid when they have cancer or are having treatment. Affection and acceptance from a partner can make a big difference. Sex doesn't make the cancer more likely to come back or spread.
Be flexible about the time of day you have sex. Try having sex in the morning when you feel refreshed after a night’s sleep rather than last thing at night. Experiment with less demanding sexual positions. You can agree with your partner that sex need not always be a long session. Our section about coping with fatigue| has more information about how to cope generally.
This will vary greatly according to the sort of operation| you had and how quickly you are healing. Your surgeon or specialist nurse can give you more information.
It isn’t known whether chemotherapy| drugs can be present in semen or vaginal fluids. Therefore it’s safest either to avoid sex or to use some other form of barrier contraception, such as a condom, during and for about 48 hours after chemotherapy. Using barrier contraception removes any potential risks and avoids the stinging sensation that some partners experience.
It’s essential to avoid becoming pregnant while you or your partner are having chemotherapy treatment. This reduces the risk that the chemicals could be absorbed and harm the developing baby. Many doctors recommend not becoming pregnant or fathering a child for up to a year after treatment, as this is the time when the cancer is most likely to come back.
This will depend a lot on which part of the body is affected by the disease. If it’s the pelvic area, it will take some gentle and patient experimenting to discover which sexual positions now suit you and your partner. This can also be true after a mastectomy|, when some people say that they don’t want their partner’s weight resting on them. Having sex side by side, or swapping who’s on top, may be better. Most couples find that with loving communication they can sort out what suits them best. The things you find most enjoyable will change with time, so be prepared to change what you do.
If you're embarrasses about your scars but still want to haev sex it’s a good idea to talk things through with your partner. Most people find their partner is much less concerned by their scars than they imagine and love them as a person and not just because of the way they look. Once the subject has been discussed openly, most people feel more relaxed about the changes in their body.
Why not try having sex in semi-darkness, by candlelight for example, to avoid being seen so clearly? Some women also say that they find having sex with their bra on after a mastectomy makes them feel sexier. This holds the false breast (prosthesis), if there is one, and helps to hide scars.
Crop tops or an all-in-one body suit with gusset poppers can also be comfortable without you having to be completely hidden. Men may also find it helpful to wear clothing during sex if they are bothered by their scars.
Content last reviewed: 1 October 2011
Next planned review: 2013
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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