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Sex and chemotherapy for women

Some women find that chemotherapy does not affect their sex lives. Others find that their sex life changes, but goes back to normal after the treatment.

You might feel tired or sick as a result of chemotherapy. This might make you feel less interested in sex for a while.

The emotional effects of having cancer can also affect your sex life. It’s important to talk to your partner about how you feel. Your cancer specialist nurse can give you support with this if you need it. You may want to talk to them with your partner.

Contraception

It’s important to use reliable contraception during treatment. Avoid getting pregnant while you or your partner are having chemotherapy. This is because the drugs may harm the baby.

If you have or have had breast cancer, your doctor might advise you not to take the contraceptive pill. This is because the hormones in it might affect the cancer. 

It is not known for sure whether or not chemotherapy drugs can be passed on through semen or secretions from the vagina. Because of this some doctors advise people to use a barrier method (such as condoms, femidoms or dental dams) if you have sex during treatment. This applies to vaginal, anal or oral sex.

Generally, doctors advise a barrier method only for the time you are actually having the treatment and for about a week after your treatment.

Advice like this can be worrying, but this does not mean that you have to avoid being intimate with your partner. You can still have close contact with your partner and continue to enjoy sex.

Early menopause

Chemotherapy does not usually have a permanent effect on your sex life. But sometimes chemotherapy can cause an early menopause. Symptoms from your menopause may affect your sex life for a while.

Most women with the menopause have some symptoms, although they vary between different women. 

This is a brief summary of some of the possible effects. You may have:

  • hot flushes
  • a dry vagina
  • less interest in sex
  • dry skin
  • mood swings and feeling low
  • loss of energy

Help with symptoms of early menopause

After you finish chemotherapy, your doctor can often prescribe hormone replacement therapy (HRT). HRT doesn't prevent the menopause, but it can help with the symptoms.

Depending on your type of cancer, your specialist might advise you not to take HRT. But many women are able to take HRT for up to 5 years.

If your vagina is dry and sex is uncomfortable, your doctor can prescribe a cream or ointment for you. Or you can use a lubricant to moisten your vagina. You can get these from your chemist without a prescription. There are a variety of lubricants available. So if one doesn’t suit you, there are others you can try.

Some people find that olive oil is a useful lubricant. But don’t use it if you’re using condoms as it may damage them. It’s important to take advice from your pharmacist, doctor or nurse.

Last reviewed: 
12 Jan 2015
  • Handbook of Cancer Chemotherapy (8th edition)
    Skeel, R.T. and Khleif, S.N.
    Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2011

  • Intimacy & Sexuality for Cancer Patients and their Partners a Booklet of Tips & Ideas for your Journey of Recovery
    Dr. D Brandenburg, L Grover, and B Quinn
    NHS Pan-Birmingham Cancer Psychology Services, 2010

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