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Sex and cancer if you are single

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This page has information about sex and cancer if you are single. There is information about

 

Your feelings

If you are single and have cancer you may still need to feel sexual and attractive to others. The physical and emotional changes cancer can cause may sometimes make it very difficult for a single person to feel comfortable about their sexuality and starting a new relationship.

You need time to get used to any changes yourself. This can be more difficult when you don't have someone close to support you and reassure you. Try talking to a close friend or family member who can help you deal with the changes that treatment and cancer have caused. If you feel able, you can show them any scars or changes to your body. If you want to speak to someone outside your circle of family and friends you can try counselling. Our section about counselling tells you what counselling is and how to find a counsellor.

This may make it easier if the time comes when you want to show your body to someone new and special in your life. Talk to your friend, family member, or counsellor and explain how you feel. This can help to boost your confidence and make finding a new partner less frightening.

Try to focus on your good points rather than the things you’re not happy with because of your cancer. Try to eat well and exercise regularly. This helps you keep your spirits up and feel good about yourself. Most importantly, take your time and don’t feel you must rush into a new relationship. You have been through a lot with having cancer and its treatment. And it can help to take time to accept any changes to your body yourself before trying to share them with a new partner.

 

Starting a new relationship

After all that you’ve been through with your cancer and its treatment, finding a new partner can seem very daunting. If you have major body changes because of your cancer or its treatment, it can be difficult to find the right time and words to tell a new person in your life about them. Even if many of the changes are not visible, you may just feel very different about your body and less attractive than you used to. But these feelings won’t necessarily last forever.

If you’ve had surgery to your genital area you may be very worried about sex being painful. If your partner doesn’t know this they won’t be able to support you in the right way. They won’t know they may need to take things very gently and slowly, so it is important to tell them.

If you have physical changes to your body such as a colostomy or removal of a breast you will naturally be worried about a new partner’s reaction to this. If you want the relationship to become physical, you have to get past the hurdle of letting them see the changes to your body for the first time. It may seem difficult, but talking honestly is the best way to approach this. You may want to prepare what you want to say. And it may help to show them any body changes before any sexual activity, so that you can get used to how that makes you both feel.

It is important to prepare yourself for the possibility that a new partner may seem shocked or upset by the changes to your body and all you have been through. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t find you attractive or don’t want to continue a relationship with you. Like you, this is new for them and they may need some time to feel comfortable. There is information about sex and cancer for partners in this section.

The more you are able to discuss your sexuality and sexual needs with a new partner, the easier things will be. Once you feel more comfortable with the changes your cancer has caused, the more comfortable your partner will feel. It may take time and there is no need to rush things. It may be helpful (or necessary) to put intercourse on hold for a while and focus on showing each other affection. Taking time to talk, cuddle, kiss and enjoy being together can make it easier to take the step when you want to move on to a more intimate physical relationship.

Some people may want a caring companion in their life but don’t want to have sex. You may want to cuddle, kiss and hold hands, but anything more is not right for you. This is still possible with the right person. It is just important that you let your new partner know this is what you want. Loving relationships are not all about having sex.

You may avoid getting into a relationship because you are afraid of being rejected. Although rejection can happen, it is important that you try not to let it stop you. With the right person most people will be able to have a loving and caring relationship.

 

If the relationship gets more serious

Starting a new relationship is one thing. But if it becomes more serious and there is a possibility of staying together long term, you may have other worries. As your relationship deepens and you become more secure in being with the person, hopefully you will feel more comfortable discussing your cancer. At first, you may try to ignore the fact that you had cancer. You may think that because you are well now, it isn’t necessary to discuss what you went through.

You may feel that you don’t want to risk upsetting your partner or changing their views of you. But this isn’t always the best way to handle things. There are certain things that may need to be discussed before you decide to plan a life together. Not talking about these things may cause problems for both of you.

 

If you can't have children

You may have lost your ability to have children (your fertility) because of the side effects of your treatment. This can be very painful to deal with. Finding the right time to tell a new partner about this may be extremely hard. Even if you can still have children you may worry that your cancer will come back and you won’t live long enough to see your children grow up. Talking to your partner about these issues is very important for you both. A loving partner will be supportive and continue to love you as you are. There is more information about infertility and chemotherapy in the main chemotherapy section.

 

Involving your partner in check ups

You may need to go for regular follow up appointments for several years after your cancer treatment. So it will be important to let your partner know about this. At first the appointments may be every few months, but if you are well they will gradually become less and less frequent. Even though your treatment has finished you may still want the support from your partner during these check ups.

Many people find their check ups quite worrying. If you are feeling well and getting on with life, a hospital appointment can bring all the worry about your cancer back to you. You may find it helpful to tell your partner how you are feeling. If you are able to share your worries, they may not seem quite so bad.

 

What if someone rejects me

Sadly, some people may reject you because of your cancer and its treatment. If this happens it can be very upsetting and shocking. It’s likely to really knock your confidence. You may think that everyone is going to react in the same way and you’ll never meet anyone who will love you for who you are. It is hard, but most of us face rejection from a partner at some time during our life. It may be hard to believe at the time, but often the best way to deal with it, is to tell yourself they just weren’t the right person for you. Try not to let it put you off going on to meet someone else.

Something else to be aware of is that there are a few people in the world who are cautious or afraid of people who have had cancer. They may be worried that the cancer is catching or that the person with cancer is unclean. Of course, neither of these ideas are true. You may choose to ignore the comments and not get involved with this person. Or you can try to explain to them that it just isn’t true. Fortunately, most people are generally better informed these days, and it is less common for people to believe these old cancer myths.

 

If you have advanced cancer

Having advanced cancer means that your cancer can’t be cured. But it doesn't necessarily mean that you are terminally ill. Whatever your situation, you may still have needs and desires. Even if you don’t feel like having sexual intercourse, you may still have sexual feelings, even if you are very ill.

If your cancer is in the advanced stages you may have an even stronger need for intimacy in your life than before you had cancer. Physical closeness, sharing your feelings and touching may become very important. Knowing your cancer can’t be cured can bring up some very strong emotions in you.

This can be very difficult to cope with if you are single and don’t have the support of a caring partner. Try not to let it put you off sharing your feelings with close friends and family. The right person will be able to give you a lot of support. You may need to open up a bit and share how you really feel.

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Updated: 24 October 2013