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Sex and cancer for partners

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This page tells you about sex and cancer if you are a partner of someone who has cancer. There is information about

 

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 being prepared to listen. It is also important to talk openly and honestly to your partner. They need to know that you still love them and find them attractive, and that you are prepared to give them the time and space to recover.

 

Physical changes

It will help them if you are able to face obvious changes like scars. You may 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 a mastectomy, for example, she will almost certainly worry that you find her less attractive, and may 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 is most likely going 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 may 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 are both clear about how far you are expecting to go.

Many men are afraid of causing a woman with cancer 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 her pace. And for women who feel rather shy at taking the lead some gentle encouragement may help.

We hope the information in this section may help you better understand how your partner is feeling and coping with the changes that cancer has brought to their sexuality and sex life.

 

Taking precautions

Always use reliable contraception if you are having chemotherapy. It is not advisable for you or your partner to become pregnant, as the treatment drugs could harm the baby. If you are having chemotherapy, 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 are having external radiotherapy treatment it is fine to have intercourse if you want to. If you have had internal radiotherapy for prostate cancer (brachytherapy) it is best to use condoms during intercourse for the first month after treatment. 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 are at all worried about anything to do with your relationship or your sex life and sexuality, you may want to talk through how you feel with a counsellor or therapist. Look in our coping emotionally section for counselling organisations or for organisations who help with relationship and sexual issues. To find out more about counselling look in the counselling section.

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Updated: 24 October 2013