How bowel cancer can affect your sex life

Your diagnosis, treatments and side effects may affect your sex life and how you see yourself. You may feel too tired to have sex during treatment and for a time after. This often gradually improves after treatment, but for some people it may take longer.

Changes to your body

If you have had an operation, you may have a scar or stoma. If you feel self-conscious about changes to your body, it can also affect your sexual desire. Talking about your feelings may help your anxiety. If you have a partner, you may both find it takes time to adjust to any changes.

We have more information about body image and appearance concerns.

Related pages

Information for men

Sometimes surgery and radiotherapy can cause problems with getting and keeping an erection (erectile dysfunction). Medicines such as sildenafil (Viagra®) can help you get an erection. If you are having erection difficulties, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. The sooner you start treatment, the more effective it is.

We have more information about sex and fertility for men.

Information for women

Women may find that changes to blood flow and nerves in the pelvic and genital area make orgasm less intense than before. It may also take longer to reach orgasm. These changes may improve over time but are sometimes permanent. Radiotherapy to the pelvic area can cause the menopause, which may lower your sex drive. Your doctor or nurse may prescribe hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help with menopausal symptoms.

We have more information about sex and fertility for women.

Anal sex after treatment

If you have had radiotherapy, you may need to be cautious with anal sex and anal play. The tissues in the area may be fragile. This can make anal sex uncomfortable. Surgery to remove the anus means anal sex and anal play are no longer possible.

Coping with sexual difficulties

Many people find it difficult to talk about sexual difficulties because they feel embarrassed or self-conscious. Your doctor or nurse will be used to talking about these issues. So it can help to talk to them if you are having problems with your sex life. They may be able to offer help and support, or refer you to a sex therapist or counsellor.

There are organisations, such as COSRT - the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists, that can give you support. It may also help to share your experience with other people through Macmillan’s Online Community.

If you identify as LGBT+

If you identify as LGBT+, you may worry about being treated insensitively by your healthcare team. You may have some specific questions. Having your sexual or gender identity acknowledged can help you feel more supported. It also means your healthcare team can give you the right information and advice.

If you want to talk things through, you can call the LGBT Foundation on 03453 30 30 30. They can give you confidential advice and support.


Treatments for bowel cancer can affect your ability to start a pregnancy (fertility). This can be difficult to cope with, even if you have a family or did not plan to have children. It is important to tell your healthcare team any concerns you have about your fertility before treatment starts. They can tell you what options might be available if you would like to have a child in the future.

We have more information about cancer treatment and fertility for men and women.

About our information

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 30 April 2020
Next review: 30 April 2023

This content is currently being reviewed. New information will be coming soon.

Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.