Sexuality and cancer: how partners can help
Cancer treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone treatment can affect a person’s sexuality. This includes their interest in sex, their ability to give or receive sexual pleasure, how they see themselves and how they think others see them.
This page is for partners of men and women with cancer, to help you understand and deal with the impact that cancer has had on your partner’s sexuality.
Despite his or her physical changes, your partner needs to know that you still love them and find them attractive.
It will take time to get used to your partner’s changed appearance. Remind yourself of their other qualities you find attractive: sense of humour, intelligence or personality. This will help you see past their physical appearance. Remember that they may be worried whether they can still satisfy you sexually.
Talk to your partner, and ask them to tell you or show you what feels good or what areas are sensitive to touch. You might feel awkward about sexual contact because you think they are not ready for sex, or that physical contact may hurt, and these feelings may affect your libido. These effects are temporary and will improve with time.
Be prepared to go at your partner’s pace. Give them the time and space to recover from treatment. If they are not ready for sexual contact, try other ways of showing you love them and find them physically attractive, such as touching, holding, hugging and massaging.
You may be concerned that you could get cancer from your partner. It is not possible for cancer to be passed from person to person through kissing, intercourse or oral sex. Or you may be worried that the different cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy drugs, may affect you. If you have sex on the days your partner has chemotherapy, use a condom to protect you from any drugs that may be in your partner’s body fluids.
You may have thought your partner was going to die and started thinking about life without them. Now that treatment is over, you may expect to feel relieved, but instead you feel low and maybe drained. You and your partner have been through a difficult experience and you need time to adjust.