Sexuality after vulval cancer

Having treatment to a part of the body that’s normally only associated with the most intimate and private parts of your life can bring up all kinds of feelings. These range from shame to fear and anger.

It may take some months before you really begin to enjoy sex again after treatment. Don’t be surprised if you feel very unsure about it. Remember that you need to look after yourself and allow yourself time to heal. If you have a partner, talk to them and be as honest as you can about what you want and don’t want. It’s fine to say no to any kind of sexual contact that doesn’t feel right. For example, there may be some tightening or scar tissue from either surgery or radiotherapy. There are a number of things that can help with this, so it’s important to talk to your specialist nurse or medical team if you’re having problems.

The treatment may have changed the way your genital area looks or feels. Many women worry that if their clitoris has been removed, they won’t be able to have orgasms. This isn’t always the case, although you may need to be patient while exploring different ways to reach a climax. Your doctor or nurse can discuss this with you.

You may want to speak to a sex therapist or counsellor who is experienced in this area. A sex therapist can help you adjust to physical changes and explore different ways of getting sexual satisfaction. Your clinical nurse specialist or doctor should be able to refer you to a sex therapist.

If you have a partner, you may feel worried about being rejected because of the changes to your body. Try to be open and talk to them about this. It’s good to look at ways of overcoming any problems as a couple.

Sometimes, difficulties arise in the relationship. If this happens to you, you may find counselling helpful, either with your partner or on your own. Counselling may make it possible for you and your partner to work through your feelings and reach a new level of closeness and understanding. Your doctor or nurse specialist will be able to refer you for counselling. Our cancer support specialists, or the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists, can also advise you on how to find counselling in your area.

If you don’t have a partner at the moment, you may feel worried about starting a new relationship in the future. Talk to your nurse specialist about how you’re feeling. They may be able to put you in touch with someone who has had the same type of treatment. Some support organisations may also be able to do this.

There are lots of people on Macmillan’s Online Community sharing their experiences of cancer. There is a group specifically for vulval cancer.

Back to What happens after treatment?

Follow-up and recovery

After treatment finishes you will have regular check-ups. You may want to make some changes to your lifestyle.