Some cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, can cause changes to your sex life.
How chemotherapy affects sex
Having chemotherapy might affect your sex life in different ways.
Treatment can cause side effects that might make you feel less like sex. For example, you might be very tired, feel sick or have a sore mouth.
Chemotherapy could affect the way you feel about yourself. For example, if you have hair loss or thinning. Or you might be more sensitive or less sensitive to touch than usual.
Some chemotherapy drugs can also affect your fertility. This can be very difficult to cope with even if you had not planned to become pregnant.
Chemotherapy and contraception
You should avoid becoming pregnant, as the chemotherapy drugs could harm the baby. You should use reliable contraception to avoid pregnancy during treatment and for a period of time afterwards. The exact time depends on the drug. Ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist about this.
Protecting your partner
It is not known for sure whether or not 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.
Getting help and support
Talk to your doctor or cancer nurse before your treatment starts if you're worried about the effects chemotherapy might have on your sex life.
They’ll be able to tell you:
- the general side effects to expect from your treatment
- how these side effects might affect your sex life
It can help to talk to a close friend or relative. Or you may prefer to talk to someone outside your circle of family and friends.
Ask your chemotherapy nurse about available counselling and support groups. Speaking with people who understand and have gone through similar things can be a great comfort. You can also look in our counselling section for information about finding a counsellor.
You and your partner may want to speak to a therapist or counsellor specialising in cancer or sexual problems. Ask your doctor or cancer nurse about this.
Cancer Research UK nurses
Cancer Chat is our online, fully moderated forum. It’s your safe place to connect with others affected by cancer, share experiences and get support.