Relationships, intimacy and sex

Physical and emotional changes after cancer and its treatment may affect your sexual confidence or ability to have sex. This could cause difficulties with a partner, delay you getting back to having sex, or affect any new relationships.

Concerns about your sex life and intimate relationships are normal. If you are in a relationship, you may worry your partner will compare things to how they were before or no longer find you attractive. But your attractiveness to your partner will be linked to lots of different things. It’s not about how a part of your body looks.

If you’re not in a relationship, you may worry about how a new partner might react to any body changes. People who have cancer do go on to have close and intimate relationships in the future.

You’ll probably need time to recover and adapt to body changes before you feel comfortable about having sex. How long this takes depends on what feels right for you and your partner.

Partners may also have concerns. Talking openly with each other can have a positive effect on your relationship and make you feel more comfortable with each other.

Even if you don’t feel like having sex, you may still want to be close to your partner. Focusing on being intimate can take the pressure off. This could be spending more time together, holding hands, hugging, kissing or giving each other a massage. This intimacy can help you slowly get back to having sex again.

If difficulties with your sex life don’t improve, talk to your doctor or specialist nurse. Try not to feel embarrassed – they’re used to giving advice on intimate problems. They can give information on how to improve sexual difficulties and they can give advice on different ways of looking at problems. They can also refer you to a sex therapist if needed.

There are different ways of dealing with relationship concerns. Here’s an example that you might find helpful.

Tanya was diagnosed with cervical cancer and had her womb removed (hysterectomy). This left her feeling like less of a woman. She had two children but was concerned that although she could no longer have children, her partner could. She felt the balance in their relationship had changed.

She talked with her healthcare team about her concerns. They helped her question her feelings to see if there was another way of looking at things. They also encouraged her to look at the different aspects of her femininity. She involved her partner in this process. Tanya thought her fertility was an important part of being a woman. But after talking with her partner, she learnt this wasn’t important in his attraction to her as a woman.

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Back to Cancer and body image

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Setting realistic goals, dealing with problems in a structured way and challenging unhelpful thinking can help you take control.

Changing the way you think

Being aware of your thoughts may help you notice unhelpful thinking patterns. It can then allow you to challenge these.