Common questions about sexuality and cancer

Can sexual activity cause cancer?

Not in the strictest sense of the word. The development of some types of cancer may be influenced by a virus that’s commonly passed from one person to another during sex through skin contact.

Anal cancer, cervical cancer, vulval cancer, penis cancer and some mouth cancers are more likely to occur in people who have the human papilloma virus (HPV). This is transmitted through sexual contact. Some types of HPV are known to increase the risk of developing particular cancers. These are known as high-risk HPVs. The types most often associated with cancer are types 16 and 18.

However, HPV is very common and most people who have it don’t develop cancer because of it.

There are many factors other than the virus that can increase the risk of developing cancer, such as:

  • whether or not you smoke
  • your age
  • your diet
  • the genes you inherit from your parents
  • your general health.

These factors can influence whether or not infection with a virus will affect the development of a cancer.

Can I catch cancer from my partner?

No. If your partner has cancer, you can’t catch it from any sexual activity. You can’t catch cancer by having sex.

Could having sex make my cancer worse?

No. In fact, sex and all the love and caring that goes with it can be helpful for people with 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.

How can I overcome tiredness?

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 and your partner can agree that sex doesn’t always need to be a long session.

How soon can I have sex after having surgery?

This will vary greatly depending on the sort of operation you had and how quickly you are healing. Your surgeon or specialist nurse can give you more information.

Can chemotherapy drugs be present in sexual fluids?

If you have sex within 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 sexual fluids. Using barrier contraception removes any potential risks.

When can I start trying for a baby?

It’s essential to avoid trying for a child while you are having chemotherapy. This reduces the risk that the chemicals could be absorbed and harm the developing baby. Many doctors recommend not trying for up to a year after treatment, as this is the time when the cancer is most likely to come back.

Which sexual positions should I use after having cancer?

This will depend a lot on which part of the body is affected. 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. If you’ve had a mastectomy, you may not want your partner’s weight resting on you. It may be better to have sex side by side, or swap who’s on top. Most couples find that with loving communication they can find out what suits them best. The things you find most enjoyable will change with time, so be prepared to change what you do.

What can I do if I’m embarrassed about my scars but still want to have sex?

Try to talk to your partner about your worries. Most people find their partner is much less concerned by their scars than they imagine, and that they 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.

Try having sex in semi-darkness, for example by candlelight, to avoid being seen so clearly. You may find it helpful to wear clothing during sex if you are worried about your scars.

Back to Your sex life and sexuality

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