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Sex and cancer for partners

Find out about how to support your partner if they have cancer. You may also be wondering how to deal with any changes in your sex life.

Talking to and supporting your partner

You can do a lot to help your partner come to terms with the effect their cancer and treatment has on them.

The most important way you can help is by being prepared to listen. It's also important to talk openly and honestly to your partner. They need to know you still love them and find them attractive, and that you're prepared to give them the time and space to recover.

Physical changes

It will help your partner if you're able to face obvious changes, such as scars. You might also need time to get used to this sort of change. New scars tend to be more visible at first. With time, they will settle down and become less obvious.

If your partner has had her breast removed (mastectomy), she will almost certainly worry that you find her less attractive, and might worry that you actually find the scar ugly and that it puts you off. Or if your partner has had surgery for prostate cancer and is having problems with having an erection, he's likely to worry about how this will affect your sex life.

It can be very healing for a partner to touch or stroke a scar as it shows that you have accepted these body changes.

Sexuality

It might be helpful (or necessary) to put intercourse on hold for a while and focus on showing each other affection. Kissing and touching can be very comforting and relaxing, as long as you're both clear about how far you're expecting to go.

Many people are afraid of causing their partner pain, even by touching them. Worries like this can get in the way of a relationship. Talking with each other will help. Ask your partner to guide you either by words or actions and be prepared to go at their pace. If your partner feels rather shy at taking the lead, some gentle encouragement might help.

Taking precautions

Always use reliable contraception if you're having chemotherapy. You or your partner shouldn't become pregnant, as the treatment drugs could harm the baby. You should also use condoms as an extra safeguard. This protects your partner from the possible risk that chemicals from the chemotherapy drugs could be in your vaginal fluids or semen.

If you're having external radiotherapy treatment it's fine to have intercourse if you want to. It's best to use condoms during intercourse for the first month after treatment if you've had internal radiotherapy for prostate cancer (brachytherapy). This is in case a radiotherapy seed gets misplaced and is present in the semen, but this is very rare.

More information and support

If you're at all worried about anything to do with your relationship or your sex life and sexuality, you might want to talk through how you feel with a counsellor or therapist.

You can contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.
Last reviewed: 
10 Jul 2015
  • Man cancer sex

    Katz, A (2010) 

    Hygeia Media

  • Anatomy and physiology in health and illness (9th edition)

    Ross and wilson (2011) 

    Churchill Livingstone

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