Effects of cancer on sexuality
It’s very difficult to accurately predict how cancer and its treatment will affect you.
Some of the possible effects that cancer and its treatment can have on sexuality are described here. We suggest some ways of overcoming these problems in a separate section.
For many people, the changes in their sexuality will be temporary. However, some people may need to adapt to permanent changes and develop new ways of giving and receiving sexual pleasure. Having cancer doesn’t mean your sexuality will be destroyed. With support and clear communication, you will often still be able to enjoy a fulfilling sex life.
There are four main ways that cancer or its treatment can affect your sexuality. It can affect your:
physical ability to give and receive sexual pleasure
thoughts and feelings about your body (body image)
emotions - such as fear, sadness, anger and joy
roles and relationships.
The links between these four areas are important. If there’s a problem in one of them, it may have an impact on another.
When someone becomes ill, it can affect their ability to feel good about themselves sexually, or their physical ability to give and receive sexual pleasure. If this has happened to you or your partner, it might be helpful to understand that some changes will only be temporary. Even if the changes are long-lasting or permanent, you can find ways to adapt sexual techniques that are no longer possible or discover new ones.
You can learn to feel good about yourself sexually despite the cancer and the possible side effects of the treatments.
Many people with cancer say that they feel ‘washed out’ and almost completely without energy for many months or even years. This may be to do with the cancer itself, or sometimes the treatment. This tiredness can make people lose interest in sex during and after cancer treatment.
You may find it helpful to read our section about coping with fatigue.
In many relationships, one partner is more interested in sex than the other. Cancer can exaggerate this. If one partner has a change in their level of desire, this can be upsetting when there’s the added complication of cancer.