This information explains how to maintain sexual health and intimacy during cancer treatment.
It is common for people to feel changes in their body during and after cancer treatment. There may be things you can see right away, like surgical scars, drainage tubes, and catheters. You may experience a loss of hair, a change in your weight, pain, or fatigue. These physical changes may affect how you feel about yourself or how you relate to your partner. They can affect your interest in sexual activity. They may also lessen your enjoyment and pleasure. Below, you will find some suggestions and resources to help you adjust and cope during this time.
Feeling Better About Yourself
- Recognize the things that you enjoy about yourself or make you feel special. These may be related to your family, friends, personal interests, or work life.
- Spend time doing activities and being with people that you enjoy.
- If your faith is important, maintain your spiritual or religious practices.
- Choose clothes that make you feel good.
- Have your favorite clothes altered to fit better.
- Wear scarves, attractive caps, or a favorite hat.
- Take part in the “Look Good Feel Better” program (see information below).
Maintaining Physical Intimacy With Your Partner
- Talk with your partner about your physical relationship. Talk about what you think would help you feel close and give you both pleasure. Share your concerns so that you can find solutions together.
- Increase intimate and sensual touching. Hug, caress, cuddle, touch, and hold hands to feel closer to each other.
- If intercourse is difficult or uncomfortable:
- Consider different sexual positions. Some may be less tiring or more comfortable.
- Vaginal moisturizers and lubricants can be helpful for women.
- Medications to help with erections can be helpful for men.
- Consider being intimate at times when you have more energy.
- Being relaxed can help improve sexual enjoyment. Select a time and place when you can relax and have privacy.
- If pregnancy is possible, use birth control (contraception) during your cancer treatment. If you have any questions about birth control, or for help deciding the type of birth control that’s right for you, talk with your healthcare provider.
- Ask your healthcare provider how long you should use birth control after your treatment is over.
- Ask your healthcare provider if your blood cell counts are high enough for you to have safe sex. Your white blood cell count should be high enough to prevent infection. Your red blood cell count should be high enough to prevent bleeding. Ask if there are any safety measures you should use for different types of sexual activity (oral, anal, and vaginal).
- Use a condom to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, especially if you have more than 1 partner.
- Speak with your healthcare provider if:
- You have vaginal dryness or tightness that makes sexual activity painful. Simple solutions are available to help. You can also be referred to our Female Sexual Medicine & Women’s Health Program (see contact information below).
- You have difficulty getting or keeping an erection, have a low testosterone hormone level, or have fertility concerns. Your healthcare provider can recommend medication that may help. You can also be referred to our Male Sexual & Reproductive Medicine Program (see contact information below).
- You have difficulty with incontinence (involuntary leakage of urine or feces). Your healthcare provider can give you a referral to the Sillerman Center for Rehabilitation (see contact information below).
Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Support Services