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Sex life

Read about how bladder cancer and its treatment can affect your sex life and relationships.

After surgery

Your sex life might be affected after having surgery for bladder cancer. This depends on the type of surgery you have.

Having a stoma can also affect the way you feel about yourself and how you feel about having sex. 

Men

During surgery to remove your bladder (cystectomy), your prostate gland is also removed. This is because bladder cancer can often come back in the protate.

Having your prostate removed means you will not be able to ejaculate. So your orgasms will be dry.

During this operation, the nerves that control your erections can also be damaged. So you may not be able to get an erection anymore.

There are some options to help you get an erection. You can:

  • use drugs such as sildenafil (Viagra) or apomorphine
  • have injections or pellets that go into the penis 
  • use a vacuum pump that draws blood into the penis to stiffen it, and give a normal erection

Your doctor can tell you more about these options and if they are suitable for you.

During surgery to make a continent urinary diversion (or bladder reconstruction), your surgeon might be able to avoid damaging the nerves that control your erections. But sometimes you still need medicines to help you get an erection.

Women

After surgery to remove your bladder (cystectomy) sex may feel different. This is because nerves in the area can be damaged during the operation.

Surgery to remove your urethra can narrow or shorten your vagina. Talk to your surgeon about this before the operation. They can try to change your vagina as little as possible. You might also be able to use dilators afterwards to stretch your vagina and keep it open.

Dilators are plastic, cone shaped objects. They come in various sizes and you use them every day, for a few minutes.

You start by using the one that goes in most easily first. Over a few weeks, you gradually use larger sizes to stretch your vagina. Sex will do this too, but you might not feel like having sex soon after your operation.

After radiotherapy

Radiotherapy for bladder cancer can cause problems with sex.

Men

Some men can't get an erection after having radiotherapy to the bladder. Or they might have erections that aren't as strong as they used to be.

There are some options to help you get an erection. Ask your doctor or specialist nurse if you would like to try any of them.

Women

Some women have vaginal dryness after having radiotherapy. There are gels and creams that can help with this. Your specialist nurse can advise you about this.

You might also have shortening or narrowing of the vagina. Using vaginal dilators or having regular sex can help with this.

After chemotherapy

Chemotherapy into the bladder doesn't usually cause any long term problems with sex. But chemotherapy into your bloodstream, can make you feel tired and less interested in sex for a while.

Women who haven't already had their menopause can begin it early. This can lower your sex drive and lead to vaginal dryness.

After BCG treatment

Treatment with BCG into the bladder does not usually cause any long term effects on your sex life.

Get help

You probably find that talking things over with your partner can help. It will take time for both of you to come to terms with all that has happened to you. But sharing how you feel can help you to understand each other better.

You might find it easier to talk to someone outside your own friends and family. Your doctor or specialist nurse can put you in touch with a councillor or a sex therapist if you feel you would like this type of help. Or you can talk to a Cancer Research UK nurse. 

For information, you can call the Cancer Research UK nurses free on 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They are happy to help. They can give advice about who can help you and what kind of support is available.
Last reviewed: 
21 May 2015
  • Improving supportive and palliative care for adults with cancer
    The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), March 2004

  • Bladder cancer: diagnosis and management

    The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), February 2015

  • Cancer Principles and Practice of Oncology (10th edition) 

    V. DeVita and others. Wolters Kluwer, 2015

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