Effects on sex life and fertility

Having chemotherapy can affect your sex life. Side effects like tiredness, sickness or feeling anxious can reduce your sex drive and make having sex difficult. It can help to talk through any concerns with your doctor or specialist nurse. It’s also important to try to talk about how you feel with your partner.

Unfortunately, some chemotherapy drugs can cause infertility. Infertility is the inability to father a child. This may be temporary or permanent, depending on the treatment that you have.

It’s important to discuss your risk of infertility with your cancer doctor before you start chemotherapy as you may be able to store sperm for use in the future. If you have a partner, you could include them in this discussion.

It’s still possible for a man to get his partner pregnant during chemotherapy. It’s important to avoid pregnancy as the drugs could harm a developing baby. Doctors will advise you to use condoms for a few days after chemotherapy to protect your partner from the drugs. It’s important to use effective contraception during treatment and for a few months after.

Effects on sex life

Having chemotherapy can affect your sex life, although not everyone finds this. Side effects like tiredness, or feeling sick or weak can reduce your sex drive and make having sex difficult. Feeling low or anxious can also affect your sex life. You might have worries about the cancer, how your family is coping or about money.

Usually there’s no medical reason to stop having sex during chemotherapy. But if you have low platelets, or a low white blood cell count, your doctor may advise you to avoid penetrative sex until your blood count improves.

It can help to talk through any concerns about your sex life with your doctor or specialist nurse. They can often reassure you and support you with any problems. It’s also important to try to talk about how you feel with your partner. Cuddling, touching and stroking are good ways of showing your feelings even if you don’t feel like having sex.

Chemotherapy shouldn’t have a long-term effect on your sex life. The side effects usually gradually wear off after your treatment finishes.


Effects on fertility

Unfortunately, some chemotherapy drugs can cause infertility. Infertility is the inability to become pregnant or to father a child. This may be temporary or permanent, depending on the treatment that you have.

It’s important to discuss your infertility risk with your cancer doctor before you start chemotherapy. If you have a partner, it’s a good idea to include them at this discussion.

Although chemotherapy can affect fertility, it’s still possible for a woman to get pregnant or for a man to get his partner pregnant during chemotherapy. It’s important to avoid pregnancy when you’re having chemotherapy as the drugs could harm a developing baby.


Men

Some chemotherapy drugs have no effect on fertility, but others can slow down or stop you producing sperm. For most men this will be temporary. Any problems with sperm production won’t stop you from getting an erection or enjoying sex.

Even if your chances of becoming infertile are low, you may still be advised to store sperm for use in the future. This has to be done before you start chemotherapy. Teenage boys at risk of infertility should also, if possible, have their sperm stored for later years.

You’ll usually be asked to produce several sperm samples over one or two weeks. These will be frozen and stored so they can be used later to try to fertilise an egg and make your partner pregnant.

It can take a few years for your sperm count to go back to normal after chemotherapy. Unfortunately in some men infertility is permanent. Your doctor can check your sperm count after treatment is over.


Feelings about infertility

If you had been planning to have children, infertility can be very hard to come to terms with.

You may find it helpful to talk about your feelings with a trained counsellor or therapist who specialises in fertility problems. Your doctor or specialist nurse may be able to arrange. Our cancer support specialists on freephone 0808 808 00 00 can also provide support.


Contraception

It’s important to use effective contraception during chemotherapy and for a few months afterwards to avoid a pregnancy. This is because the chemotherapy drugs could harm a developing baby. Your cancer doctor or nurse can give you more advice.


Protecting your partner

If you have sex in the first couple of days of having chemotherapy, you need to use a condom. This is to protect your partner in case there is any chemotherapy in semen or vaginal fluid.

Cancer cannot be passed on to your partner and sex won’t make the cancer worse.

Back to Side effects of chemotherapy

Late effects of chemotherapy

Late effects are side effects you still have six months after chemotherapy, or side effects that begin years later.