Cancer and its treatments may affect sexuality. For some people during treatment, intimacy and sex are the last things on their mind. The possible side effects of treatment can make people too uncomfortable to even think about intimacy and sex.

Talking to Your Doctor About Sex

The topic of sex can also be a bit embarrassing to discuss with your doctor. But it’s a good idea to bring up the subject or have someone help you talk to your doctor before treatment starts. This way, you’ll know what to expect, look into options, and be prepared.

While it’s generally safe to have sex during cancer treatment, you should always talk with your doctors if you have any concerns. Here are answers to some common questions.

Frequently Asked Questions

I’m having radiation therapy. Will it make me or my partner radioactive?

No. External radiation therapy—or having sex during external radiation therapy—won’t make either of you radioactive.

Is it safe to have sex while being treated with chemotherapy?

If your doctor says it’s fine, yes. But, practice safe sex by using condoms. If you’re having oral sex, use a dental dam. This is because chemo can remain in the body and be passed along in semen or fluid from the vagina.

I’m a woman that’s about to begin chemotherapy. How will this impact my sex life?

Loss of desire is common when going through cancer treatments. Women may have pain during intercourse due to vaginal dryness and reaching orgasm may take longer too.

What are possible side effects for men who undergo chemotherapy?

Men may lose interest in sex and could have erection problems. Some men may also have a harder time reaching orgasm.

My doctor said it’s okay for me to have sex, but I have no interest at all. Could it be something besides the chemo?

People forget that sex has a lot to do with your state of mind, as well as your body. Living with cancer can be stressful. You may feel scared about the future, worried about finances, and even guilty, if you think that you’re letting your partner down. It’s a lot to deal with and can be distracting. Your doctor may suggest a therapist to help you through this.

I’ve heard that I shouldn’t have sex because my partner could catch cancer.

This is one of the common myths about sex and cancer. You can’t give someone cancer by having sex with them. Having sex will also not cause cancer to come back.

Pregnancy

Even if you’re going through chemo, if you’re of childbearing age, it’s possible to become pregnant. Because some cancer treatments may cause birth defects, it's necessary to use birth control to prevent pregnancy when on these treatments. If you’re pregnant, let your doctor know immediately. He or she may want to explore various treatment options with you, either during your pregnancy or after you’ve given birth.