Chemotherapy and women's sexuality

Some cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, can cause changes to your sex life.

Remember – any changes to your sex life don't usually last long. There's usually no medical reason to stop having sex during chemotherapy. The drugs won't have any long term physical effects on your performance or enjoyment of sex. Cancer can't be passed on to your partner during sex.

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

For support and information, you can call the Cancer Research UK information nurses. They can give advice about who can help you and what kind of support is available. Freephone: 0808 800 4040 - Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Cancer Chat

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. 

Last reviewed: 
01 Nov 2021
Next review due: 
01 Nov 2024
  • Handbook of Cancer Chemotherapy (8th edition)
    RT Skeel and SN Khleif
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2011

  • Intimacy & Sexuality for Cancer Patients and their Partners a Booklet of Tips & Ideas for your Journey of Recovery

    D Brandenburg, L Grover, and B Quinn
    NHS Pan-Birmingham Cancer Psychology Services, 2010

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. Please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular issue you are interested in if you need additional references for this information.

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