Cancer Research UK on Google+ Cancer Research UK on Facebook Cancer Research UK on Twitter

Sex and bowel cancer

Men and women discussing bowel cancer

This page tells you about how bowel cancer and its treatment can affect your sex life and relationships. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Sex and bowel cancer

Most people are able to have a normal sex life after having bowel cancer. You will need time to get over surgery, or any other treatment. You should not have sex for at least 6 weeks after major surgery.

Many people don't feel like sex while they are having treatment. Side effects and general tiredness are bound to get in the way. If you have had a colostomy or ileostomy you may also feel self conscious about the change in your body.

You will probably find that talking things over with your partner can help. You may prefer to talk to a specialist counsellor, either alone or with your partner.

Sometimes, radiotherapy or an operation to the rectum can affect the nerves to the sex organs. A man may not be able to get, or keep, an erection. A woman may find that sex feels different from before the treatment, and may have vaginal dryness and pain. Women may also find after radiotherapy that their vagina shrinks slightly and gets narrower. 

These effects do not affect everyone who has bowel cancer treatment and they may get better over time. Occasionally, the changes can be permanent. There is more information about sex, sexuality and cancer in our coping with cancer section.
 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the living with bowel cancer section.

 

 

Effects on your sex life

Most people are able to have a normal sex life after having bowel cancer. You will need time to get over surgery, or any other treatment. You should not have sex for at least 6 weeks after major surgery. But there is no reason why chemotherapy or radiotherapy should stop you making love if you feel like it.

Many people do not feel like sex while they are having treatment. Try not to worry about this. Side effects and general tiredness are bound to get in the way. If you have had a colostomy or ileostomy you may also feel self conscious about the change in your body.

Surgery to the bowel or back passage (rectum) can affect the nerves to the sex organs. This can cause sexual problems in both men and women. The number of people who have problems is not certain but research suggests over half of people having surgery have some problems. If you have radiotherapy before surgery it raises the risk of having sexual problems after treatment.

A man may not be able to get, or keep, an erection and may have dry orgasms. There are a number of treatments available for erectile problems. You can find out more about them in the section about sex and men.

Women may find that sensations during sex are different from before. It can take some time to get used to this. Some women may have vaginal dryness and pain during intercourse.

A woman may find that her vagina shrinks slightly and begins to get a bit narrower after radiotherapy for bowel cancer. Regular sex can help to gently stretch the vagina. Or you can use vaginal dilators. Your nurse can give you the dilators and advice on how to use them. There is detailed information about dilators in our section about side effects of radiotherapy to the pelvis.

The effects mentioned here don't affect everyone who has bowel cancer treatment and they may get better over time. Occasionally, the changes can be permanent. You may feel very embarrassed to talk to doctors or nurses about sexual problems. But doctors and nurses deal with these things all the time, so you don't need to feel embarrassed. If you tell them about any problems you have, they can find ways of helping you to deal with them.

There is more information about sex, sexuality and cancer in our coping with cancer section.

 

Who you can talk to

You will probably find that talking things over with your partner can help. It will take time for both of you to come to terms with all that has happened to you. But sharing how you feel can help you to understand each other better.

You may prefer to talk to a specialist counsellor either alone or with your partner if you have one. Your doctor or specialist nurse can put you in touch with a sex therapist if you feel you would like this type of help. You can contact our cancer information nurses for help in finding a therapist or counsellor.

Rate this page:
Submit rating

 

Rated 5 out of 5 based on 6 votes
Rate this page
Rate this page for no comments box
Please enter feedback to continue submitting
Send feedback
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team

No Error

Updated: 12 September 2013