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Your sex life after vaginal cancer

Some treatments for vaginal cancer can affect your sex life.

Women who have had extensive surgery, radiotherapy or both might find the treatment permanently effects how they have, and what they feel during, sex. But there are ways to manage the problems that can cause these changes.

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy for vaginal cancer can cause side effects. Including:

  • early menopause
  • fibrosis and narrowing of the vagina
  • vaginal dryness
  • pain when having sex
  • delicate skin inside the vagina

After radiotherapy for vaginal cancer you are advised to use dilators to stop your vagina shrinking and narrowing.

Your doctor or specialist nurse might prescribe or suggest gels and creams to moisturise the vagina and prevent soreness.

Early menopause

You will have an early menopause if you have your womb and both your ovaries removed. If you haven't had your menopause your surgeon might try to leave one ovary, but this is not always possible.

You might be able to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help with symptoms of menopause. HRT means taking a tablet, wearing a skin patch, or having an implant every few months to give you the female sex hormones that your ovaries are no longer producing.

Sex after vaginal reconstruction

If you've had the lower part of your vagina removed then you will have:

  • a drop in sexual desire or pleasure
  •  changes in sensation during sex

And you might also have:

  • problems reaching orgasm
  • numbness in your genital area
  • a narrowing of the vaginal opening because of scar tissue

Your doctor and nurse can give you vaginal dilators to use. The dilators keep the vaginal opening stretchy so  you can continue to have sex. 

Skin graft and sensation

If you have vaginal reconstruction using skin and muscle taken from your thigh, you might feel a strange sensation in your inner thighs when you have sexual intercourse. This is described as feeling if your inner thighs are being stroked.

It happens because the nerves that supplied the thigh tissue, now form the walls of the reconstructed vagina. Your brain picks up this message and thinks that the leg is being touched. This can feel very strange and may be very off putting at first. Over time, most women get used to it and it can even become sexually stimulating.

Women say they don’t feel they can contract the muscles around the entrance to the vagina as easily as before their surgery. This means you won’t be able to squeeze your vagina as hard around your partner's penis. You and your partner may need to experiment and try different sexual positions. With time and patience, you’ll be able to find some positions that you both enjoy.

You may have a small amount of bleeding or spotting after sex. This is nothing to worry about. But if the bleeding becomes heavy, then see your doctor.

Worrying about sex

It is understandable to feel nervous about having sex again after treatment, but try not to worry. You may need more time to come to terms with what has happened to you. If you are worried, anxious or depressed, you probably won't feel like having sex. 

It can help to talk things over with your partner. Together you should be able to work out what is best for you both.

There are sex therapists you can see if you would like to. Talk to your GP or specialist nurse. They can put you in touch with a therapist.

Last reviewed: 
29 Sep 2015
  • Preventing vaginal stenosis after brachytherapy for gynaecological cancer: an overview of Australian practices
    L Lancaster
    European Journal of Oncology Nursing, 2004, Volume 8

  • Vaginal reconstruction at the time of pelvic exenteration: a surgical and psychosexual analysis of techniques.
    R Mirhashemi and others
    Gynaecologic Oncology.2002, Volume 87.

  • Early-stage cervical carcinoma, radical hysterectomy, and sexual function. A longitudinal study.
    PT Jensen and others
    Cancer,2004 Vol:100
     

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