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You may worry that cancer, and any damage to your reproductive system, might affect your ability to have sexual feelings and to enjoy sex, either now or in the future. The good news is that having had cancer won’t automatically affect your sex life.
It’s not common for cancer or its treatment to make it physically difficult to have sex, but it does happen occasionally. Even if the cancer or its treatment has damaged your reproductive system, you can usually still enjoy sex and relationships.
Cancer and its treatment can affect people both physically and emotionally. It’s important to remember that not everyone is affected. It’s different for everyone, and it can also change over time. It can be hard to think about ways of adapting to any changes to your body, but it can also be fun to learn about enjoying your sex life in new ways.
Cancer or its treatment may affect:
The links between all these areas are important. If there’s a problem in one, it might have an impact on the others. In the same way, if there’s an improvement in one area, it can help improve all the others. If you’ve had treatment recently, it’s important to give yourself plenty of time to recover.
There are often ways of dealing with the physical effects of treatment on your sex life, and if you want to talk to someone about it there’s lots of expert information and support| available.
It can be helpful to know about the different sex organs. There are lots of different names for them, but we will use the same names throughout our info.
Find out more about male sex organs| and possible effects on men, or female sex organs| and possible effects on women.
Some things can affect both men and women:
Hormone levels can usually be kept almost normal by taking hormone tablets, using skin patches, applying gel to the skin or having injections. Hormone replacement is important for both men and women - not only for maintaining sex drive but to help keep the bones strong.
You might be put off having sex because you’re in pain or afraid that it might be painful. If this is the case for you, it’s worth checking with your doctor or asking for a referral to a specialist counsellor, to find out if there’s anything that can get rid of or reduce the pain. You can also experiment with sexual positions that may be more comfortable for you.
Perhaps the most important thing to realise is that you’re going through the same problems as many other young people being treated for cancer, and that getting help may solve or reduce them.
If things aren’t going well with your sex life, it’s a good idea to get some help, rather than leaving it. It can be difficult to talk about sex, but doctors and specialist nurses are used to dealing with intimate problems. They can often give you advice and support, or refer you to a sex therapist or counsellor for more specialist help.
How long the side effects last depends on which parts of your body, if any, have been affected:
In most people, tiredness and a lack of energy gradually become less of a problem after a while, although this can take months or sometimes years.
No, cancer is not passed on through sex.
No, having sex has no effect on the chances of your cancer coming back.
Many of the sexual issues that affect heterosexual (‘straight’) people after being treated for cancer also affect people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. However, some people find it hard to ask for professional advice if they’re still coming to terms with their sexual orientation. You may also worry that healthcare staff will disapprove. If you find it difficult to talk to the professionals you know, there are advice lines that can put you in touch with people who can help.|
We have more information about sexuality and cancer|, which is written for people of all ages, not just teens and young adults.
Content last reviewed: 1 June 2012
Next planned review: 2014
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.
Join our online community group for people who are 16 - 24 and living with cancer. It's your space to talk freely and openly to people who understand.
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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