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Your sex life after vaginal cancer treatment

Women discussing vaginal cancer

This page tells you about how treatment for vaginal cancer may affect your sex life.

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Early menopause

If you have not yet had your menopause, and you have your womb and ovaries removed, this will bring on an early menopause. You may be able to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help with some of the symptoms of the menopause.

Vaginal radiotherapy

Radiotherapy for vaginal cancer can also cause an early menopause as well as fibrosis and narrowing of the vagina, vaginal dryness, pain when having sex, and delicate skin inside the vagina. You may be advised to use dilators to stop the vagina shrinking and narrowing. And your doctor might suggest gels and creams to moisturise the vagina and prevent soreness.

Sex after vaginal reconstruction

If you've had the lower part of your vagina removed then you may have a drop in sexual desire or pleasure and problems reaching orgasm. You may also notice numbness in your genital area after this type of surgery. If you have vaginal reconstruction using a thigh flap, you may feel a strange sensation in your inner thighs when you have intercourse.

If you are worried about sex

If you feel nervous about starting your sex life again, try not to worry. Give yourself time. And it can help to talk things over with your partner. Your doctor or specialist nurse can refer you to a sex therapist if you would like.

 

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

 

 

Are effects permanent?

For women who have extensive surgery or radiotherapy, or both, some of the treatment effects on sexuality will be permanent.

 

Early menopause

If you have not yet had your menopause, and you have your womb removed, this can bring on an early menopause. You will only have a menopause if you have both your ovaries removed, as well as your womb. Your surgeon may suggest leaving one ovary if you have not had your menopause, but that is not always possible. There is information about coping with early menopause and the symptoms it can cause in the section about sex and cancer for women.

You may be able to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help with some of the symptoms of the 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.

 

Vaginal radiotherapy

Radiotherapy for vaginal cancer can cause a number of side effects. These are

  • Early menopause
  • Fibrosis and narrowing of the vagina
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Pain when having sex
  • Delicate skin inside the vagina

Women who have radiotherapy for vaginal cancer are advised to use dilators afterwards to stop the vagina shrinking and narrowing. There is information about using vaginal dilators in the radiotherapy for vaginal cancer section. Your doctor or specialist nurse might prescribe or suggest gels and creams to moisturise the vagina and prevent soreness.

 

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 and will have changes in sensation during sex. You may have problems reaching orgasm. You may also notice numbness in your genital area after this type of surgery. The vaginal opening may narrow due to scar tissue. So your doctor and nurse may give you vaginal dilators to use. The dilators keep the vaginal opening stretchy so that you can continue to have sex. There is information about using vaginal dilators in the surgery for vaginal cancer section.

If you have vaginal reconstruction using skin and muscle taken from your thigh, you may feel a strange sensation in your inner thighs when you have sexual intercourse. Women have described this sensation as feeling as 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 have also said that they do not feel that they can contract the muscles around the entrance to the vagina as easily as before their surgery. This will mean that you will not be able to squeeze your vagina as hard around your partner's penis. You and your partner may need to experiment a bit and try different sexual positions. With time and patience, you will 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.

There is detailed information about vaginal reconstruction in the vaginal surgery section. There is also more information about the effects on your sex life and how to cope with them in the section about sex and cancer for women.

 

If you are worried about sex

If you feel nervous about starting your sex life again, try not to worry. You may need more time to come to terms with all that has happened to you. If you are worried, anxious or depressed, you are not likely to feel like having sex. Give yourself more time. And 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 will be able to put you in touch with a therapist.

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Updated: 14 October 2013