About sex and chemotherapy

Some people carry on with their sex lives as normal during chemotherapy. Others find their treatment changes how they feel emotionally or physically. Some changes are simple and won’t last long. They won't affect your sex life permanently.

Sometimes you may feel:

  • too tired
  • not strong enough to be very active
  • sick or sore
  • not in the mood
  • anxious or low

Your anxiety might not seem related to sex. For example, you may be worried about the cancer and how your treatment is going. Or you may be worried about money, or about how your family are coping with your illness.

These things can cause stress, which can affect your interest in sex. It’s important to talk to your partner about how you feel.

Remember – the changes to your sex life don't usually last long. There's usually no medical reason to stop having sex during chemo. 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.

Contraception to avoid pregnancy

It’s important to use reliable contraception during treatment. Avoid getting pregnant while you or your partner are having chemotherapy. This is because the drugs may harm the baby.

If you have or have had breast cancer, your doctor might advise you not to take the contraceptive pill. This is because the hormones in it might affect the cancer. 

Protecting your partner

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.

Talking about sex and chemotherapy

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

Try not to feel uncomfortable about discussing sexual problems with your doctor or nurse. If sex is an important part of your life, you need to know about any possible changes.

Discuss your feelings and any worries with your partner too. Even though there's only a small chance you will have problems with sex, your partner may feel worried. Your partner could go with you if you decide to have a chat with your doctor or nurse.

Other help and support

You or your partner could also contact an organisation that helps with relationships and sexuality issues. Some of these organisations have useful factsheets that they can send to you.

This page is due for review. We will update this as soon as possible.

  • Handbook of Cancer Chemotherapy (8th edition)
    Skeel, R.T. and Khleif, S.N.
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2011

  • Intimacy & Sexuality for Cancer Patients and their Partners a Booklet of Tips & Ideas for your Journey of Recovery
    Dr. D Brandenburg, L Grover, and B Quinn
    NHS Pan-Birmingham Cancer Psychology Services, 2010

Last reviewed: 
09 Sep 2020
Next review due: 
09 Sep 2023

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