Some men lead normal sex lives during treatment. Others find that their sex lives change, but go back to normal afterwards.
How chemotherapy affects men
Chemotherapy doesn’t usually have a permanent effect on your sex life.
You might feel tired or sick as a result of chemotherapy. These changes may make you feel less interested in sex for a while.
More rarely, chemotherapy can make a man’s testosterone levels drop. Testosterone is the male sex hormone. Chemotherapy can also affect the nerves that control erections.
So some men find that while they’re having treatment, they lose interest in sex. Or they have trouble getting and keeping an erection.
These changes are usually temporary and don’t last more than a couple of weeks after the treatment has finished.
The emotional effects of having cancer can also affect your sex life. Some men feel differently about themselves. You may worry about your ability to have sex, or about your ability to father children (fertility). These worries can also lower your desire and your ability to have an erection.
High dose treatment
Higher doses of chemotherapy are more likely to affect your sex life. You may have high dose chemotherapy with a stem cell or bone marrow transplant.
Many people having this treatment have radiotherapy as well. This combination is more likely to make you lose your sex drive or have erection problems.
This may happen during treatment and for a while afterwards. Research shows that high dose treatment reduces some men’s testosterone levels for a while.
Who can help?
It can be difficult to talk about your sex life, especially if you’re worried or embarrassed. But do try to talk to your doctor or nurse if you’re having problems.
Most of these side effects are temporary, but treatments are available. These include hormone replacement and drugs to help you get and maintain an erection.
Always use reliable contraception during your treatment. It is not advisable for your partner to become pregnant, as the treatment drugs could harm the baby.
It is not known for sure whether chemotherapy drugs can be passed on through semen or secretions from the vagina. Because of this some doctors advise people to use a barrier method (such as condoms, femidoms or dental dams) if you have sex during treatment. This applies to vaginal, anal or oral sex.
Generally, doctors advise a barrier method only for the time you are actually having the treatment and for about a week after your treatment.
Advice like this can be worrying, but this does not mean that you have to avoid being intimate with your partner. You can still have close contact with your partner and continue to enjoy sex.