Anal cancer and sex

Your diagnosis, treatment and side effects may affect your sex life and how you feel about yourself as a man or a woman. Difficulties often improve slowly after treatment, although for some people it may take longer.

If you have a partner, you may both find it takes time to adjust to any changes. Most people can go back to their usual sex life. But some people find their surgery or the side effects of treatment prevent that.

You may feel insecure and worry about whether your present or future partner will find you sexually attractive, especially if you have a stoma. It is normal to feel like this when you’re adjusting to body changes.

Men may find that treatment has damaged the nerves that go to the sexual organs. If this happens, a man may not be able to have or maintain an erection. They may also have problems with orgasm and ejaculation. There are treatments available that can help men have erections, such as:

  • tablets like sildenafil (Viagra®)
  • vacuum pumps
  • pellets inserted into the penis
  • implants.

It’s important to discuss this with your doctor as soon as you notice a problem. Treatment can often be more effective when it’s started sooner.

Women may also find that treatment has damaged the nerves that are important for sexual function. Sometimes this causes problems with arousal and orgasm. This may improve over time, but sometimes it is permanent.

If you have any of these problems, talk it over with your doctor or specialist nurse. They can offer the best advice and may refer you for a specialist assessment. Taking HRT can help if you have problems caused by menopausal symptoms.

Surgery to remove the anus means anal sex and anal play are no longer possible. If the anus hasn’t been removed but you have had radiotherapy, you may need to be cautious with anal sex. The tissues in the area may be fragile and less able to heal. It may make anal sex uncomfortable or impossible. Your doctor can tell you more about this.

Cuddles, kisses and massage can show how much you care for someone, even if you don’t feel like having sex. You can wait until you and your partner feel ready – there’s no right or wrong time.

Getting support

If you feel things are awkward between you, it can help to talk about it. Many people find they feel reassured after talking to their partner.

You can also talk to your doctor or nurse about your concerns, and there are organisations in our database that can give you support. It may also help to share your experience with other people through Macmillan’s Online Community.

We have more information about sexuality and cancer.

If any difficulties with your sex life don’t improve, let your doctor or specialist nurse know. They may be able to reassure you and offer more help and support. If you feel uncomfortable talking to your doctor or nurse, you can contact us.

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