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Sex and chemotherapy for men

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This page is about how chemotherapy can affect men’s sex lives. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Chemotherapy doesn’t usually have a permanent effect on your sex life. Some men lead normal sex lives during treatment. Others find that their sex lives change while they are having treatment, but go back to normal once their chemotherapy treatment has finished.

General side effects of chemotherapy include tiredness (fatigue) and feeling sick (nausea). These changes can make you feel less interested in sex during your treatment and for a while afterwards.

More rarely, chemotherapy can make a man’s testosterone levels drop. Testosterone is the male sex hormone. Or chemotherapy can affect the nerves that control erections. These changes are usually temporary and don’t last more than a couple of weeks after the treatment has finished.

The emotional effects of having cancer can affect your sex life, too. Worries and fears can also lower your desire and your ability to have an erection.

Contraception

Always use reliable contraception during your treatment. It is not advisable for your partner to become pregnant, as the treatment drugs could harm the baby.

Even if your partner is taking the contraceptive pill, you should use condoms as an extra safeguard. This protects your partner from any possible risk that chemicals from the chemotherapy drugs could be in your semen.

You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Sex and Chemotherapy section.

 

The effects of chemo on men’s sex lives

Chemotherapy doesn’t usually have a permanent effect on your sex life. Some men lead normal sex lives during treatment. Others find that their sex lives change while they are having treatment, but go back to normal once their chemotherapy treatment has finished.

General side effects of chemotherapy include tiredness (fatigue) and feeling sick (nausea). These changes can make you feel less interested in sex during your treatment and for a while afterwards.

More rarely, chemotherapy can make a man’s testosterone levels drop. Testosterone is the male sex hormone. Or chemotherapy can affect the nerves that control erections. So some men find that while they’re having treatment, they

  • Lose interest in sex
  • Have trouble getting, and keeping, an erection

These changes are usually temporary and don’t last more than a couple of weeks after the treatment has finished.

The emotional effects of having cancer can affect your sex life, too. Some men feel differently about themselves. You may worry about your ability to have sex, or about your ability to father children (fertility). These worries and fears can also lower your desire and your ability to have an erection.

 

High dose treatment

Higher doses of chemotherapy are more likely to affect your sex life. You may have high dose chemotherapy with a stem cell or bone marrow transplant. Many people who have this treatment have radiotherapy as well. This combination of treatments is more likely to make you lose your sex drive or have erection problems during treatment and for a while afterwards. Research shows that high dose treatment temporarily reduces the levels of testosterone in some men.

 

Who can help

It can be difficult to talk about your sex life, especially if you are worried or embarrassed. But do try to talk to your doctor or clinical nurse specialist if you’re having problems. Most of these side effects are temporary, but treatments are available. These include hormone replacement and drugs to help you get and maintain an erection. There is more information in the sex, sexuality and cancer section.

 

Contraception

Always use reliable contraception during your treatment. It is not advisable for your partner to become pregnant, as the treatment drugs could harm the baby.

Even if your partner is taking the contraceptive pill, you should use barrier contraception (condoms) as an extra safeguard.

Using condoms also protects your partner from the possible risk that chemicals from the chemotherapy drugs could be in your semen. Doctors don’t think that this usually happens, but it has been suggested that chemotherapy can get into vaginal fluids. As the doctors don’t know for sure, they advise using barrier contraception (condom) during a course of chemotherapy treatment and for a week or so afterwards.

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Updated: 18 April 2013