Cancer and Sexuality


Cancer can affect your sexuality in different ways. Thoughts and feelings or side effects of treatment can change how you feel comfortable with yourself or with others. You may also find it more difficult to have sex in the same way as before. Often it is possible to strengthen the sexuality, the desire and the ability to have sex.

This text is about how cancer can affect your sex life, both during treatment and afterward. Here you can read about what you can do yourself and what help you can get.

Having sex is not harmful

Sexuality exists in all people, regardless of age, appearance, sexual orientation or partner.

Sexuality means that we seek love, contact, and closeness.

Sexuality affects us mentally and physically: how we feel, what we think, feel and do. But those things can also affect sexuality back.

Even hormones and body functions affect sexuality.

Sexual desire and sexual acts are part of the sexuality, although the desire for closeness and sex can differ greatly.

Can I have sex in cancer?

You can have sex before, during or after a cancer treatment if you wish and your doctor does not say you should abstain.

Cancer does not infect, a cancer cell cannot survive in another person’s body.

Wait for six for a while if you are in pain because of the treatment. Then you avoid the risk of starting to associate sex with discomfort. Some pain can go away with time and some can be treated in different ways.

Abstain from sex if it feels too demanding or if you can’t handle it. You may or may not want to have sex in the same way as before you became ill.

Contraceptives are important

Treatment can be harmful to a fetus. Use contraception as long as treatment is in progress and some time afterward if you are of childbearing age. Feel free to discuss with your doctor when it is appropriate to plan for a pregnancy.

You may be extra sensitive to infections. Protect yourself by using a condom or lick.

What can I do for myself if cancer affects my sexuality?

You may not enjoy the same way as before the illness and treatments. What has previously been a matter, of course, may not be possible after the cancer treatment.

You may need to be brave and rethink to find back to your sexuality in cancer.

You may need to explore new ways to have sex. You can find ways to work that feel good even if it doesn’t get exactly as it used to.

Advice and tips on what you can do yourself

Here are some tips you can try:

  • Do something every day that makes your body feel good. Do some physical activity, take a bath or lubricate the body with a cream or body oil and let your fingers get used to how the body feels after the treatment.
  • You can try to find your way back to your own desire before sharing it with anyone else. It may be easier to have sex with someone once you get to know your new body alone first. Try calmly how your body reacts. You can recreate a nice memory, masturbate, use sex toys, watch pictures or movies, or read texts that you find stimulating.
  • Online dating can sometimes feel easier if you are looking for a new partner.  
  • Try to dress so that you feel nice, comfortable and sexy if you find it difficult to show the body to a partner. Gradually, your self-confidence can increase in the relationship with the partner so that you finally dare to show more of yourself.
  • You can tape hoses, catheters and ostomy bags to the skin or hide in clothing if you think they are in the way. There are patterned covers that embellish or hide ostomy. An ostomy therapist may suggest more solutions.
  • Feel free to talk about how you experience the situation with the person you have sex with. It can reduce the risk of conflicts and misunderstandings if you have different needs for sex. Sex can also be hugs and touches.

Your sexual desire may have diminished without you thinking it is a problem. Then you don’t have to do anything.

Cancer can affect your sexuality in different ways

The cancer message, the disease or the treatments can affect your sexuality in different ways. Here you can read more.

The cancer message and sexuality

It may be different how a message about cancer affects you. This depends, among other things, on how you are as a person.

You may feel anxious about the future and have difficulty thinking about anything other than the disease. You may be depressed or depressed. It often affects sex drive.

You may also feel that life suddenly becomes extra valuable and that the closest relationships become more important and stronger than before. Then sex can be a way of affirming each other and feeling connected. It will be a break from the disease and anxiety.

You may also feel a great need for body contact and closeness, without wanting to have sex.

The disease and treatments can affect sexuality

It is common for sex drive to decrease or disappear completely in connection with cancer treatment. It often comes back again after treatment, although it may take some time.

The treatment can cause problems that affect your ability to have sex. Some problems come when you receive treatment, others may come later. Some disappear or are alleviated by themselves, others become permanent.

If you have been operated on

The body may function differently if any part of the body has been removed or if nerves or blood vessels have been affected.

Operations in the genitals or near the genitals or rectum can make the vagina drier or make it more difficult to get a hold. It may be more difficult to respond to sexual contact in the genitals.

The feeling in which you have been operated is almost always affected, even after a minor operation. Some feel that the feeling increases, others think it decreases. After a while, the feeling may become completely or partially as usual again.

The body may look different or feel different. You may have had a body part removed, such as a breast.

You may have scars that are invisible or almost invisible but that still affect how you think about yourself.

If you have received cytostatics

Treatment with cytostatic drugs can make the mucous membranes dry and fragile, you can feel sick, get hurt, lose your hair and feel tired and sick. Treatment can lead to a lack of certain hormones that affect sex drive.

The side effects often disappear when the treatment is complete, but sometimes they can be permanent.

If you have been treated with radiation

Radiation therapy can have side effects that come when you receive treatment or afterward, sometimes for a long time afterwards.

The problems you experience depend on which part of the body has been treated. Radiation to the genitals, lower abdomen or rectum can make it more difficult to have intercourse in the vagina or to have a stand.

Radiation to the head can alter the levels of hormones that are important for sex life.

If you are receiving hormone therapy

Some cancers can be treated with drugs that block hormones that the cancer tumor needs to grow.

Hormone therapy in prostate cancer can affect sex drive and the ability to stop.

Hormone therapy for breast cancer can make the abdomen dry and fragile.

The side effects usually disappear when the blocking treatment ends.

Other side effects

You can get swelling and weight in the body part that has been operated or radiated. The swelling is called lymphedema.

Medicines with cortisone are commonly available with cytostatic drugs. Cortisone can cause you to swell on your face, for example. You can also gain weight or get a rash.

You may get scars on your body if you have had a venous catheteror a subcutaneous venous port, for example, to facilitate sampling and treatment. The scar usually fades with time.

What help or treatment can I get?

Talk to the contact nurse or doctor if you are bothered by a side effect or if you have any concerns. 

There is often treatment, advice or support if you need it. Here are some examples.

Help against dry mucous membranes

Dry and fragile mucous membranes of the abdomen can be treated with creams, gels or tablets. There are several to choose from, with or without estrogen. Sometimes ordinary plain jelly is enough.

You can get blisters in your mouth and it can hurt. There are medicines that can relieve if you need it. You can do some things yourself, for example, if you are dry in your mouth.

Prevent the vagina from contracting

The vagina may contract if you have been operated on or radiated in the genital area. You can prevent this with a dilator. It is a plastic rod that you use to widen the vagina.

The staff where you receive treatment tell you how to do and help you try out the right dilator.

Get help

There are various medicines and aids if you are having difficulty getting a hold. You may need to try before you find a treatment that is right for you.

When you have prostate cancer, you can get treatment with vasodilator drugs early after surgery. The drugs help to improve the healing process and return their own ability to recover.

Help against incontinence

The disease or treatment can cause you with incontinence problems.

Plastic surgery

Some suffer from a scar or implant after a treatment. Talk to your doctor to see what can be done.

Help with thoughts, feelings, and relationships

Sometimes thoughts and feelings can affect sex life. Talk to someone you trust, such as someone close to you. It may also be a doctor, contact nurse or someone else in the staff who participates in your care. Here you can read more about help with thoughts and feelings about cancer.

In some places in the country, there are people who specialize in helping with sexual disorders. There are also psychotherapists who can help with rehabilitation. You can get help individually or together with a possible partner.

Sometimes you may need to look for alternatives other than the publicly funded healthcare offer. You pay for such treatment yourself.

To like and be proud of his body

It can be difficult to learn to trust and relearn your body again when you have cancer, or afterward. Some feel that the body has failed them.

It can also be difficult to accept if the disease or treatment has changed the body.

For others, it may be the opposite. They feel joy and pride in actually being present when they become aware of how the body works, and that it cannot be taken for granted.

Then it may feel less important than the body looks or functions differently than before.

Influence and participate in your care

You should be able to participate in your care. Therefore, it is important that you understand the information you receive from the healthcare staff.

Include sexual disorders in the care plan

The care plan should answer questions that are important to you. It should be updated when you think it is needed. Tell if you want it to be about the sexual side effects you have or are at risk of, and what help you can get then.

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