Sexuality and cancer

Cancer treatment and the emotional effects of cancer may affect people with cancer and their partners in different ways.

Some people may withdraw through feelings of being unable to cope with the effects of treatment on themselves or their partner. Others may feel an increased need for sexual and intimate contact for reassurance.

It is important to talk about your feelings with your partner. If you are having trouble continuing with your usual sexual activities, discuss this with your doctor or with a trained counsellor. Your partner may also like to seek support.

If you are without a partner, you may be worried about forming new relationships. Talking about this with a close friend, a family member, a social worker or phoning the cancer information nurses on the Cancer Information Helpline 0800 CANCER (226 237) may be useful.

After you have had your check-up following surgery you will be able to resume sexual intercourse, if you wish.

If you have had internal or external radiation treatment, you may find that your vagina has changed and it may be dry as well. Talk with your doctor or your nurse about this.

Using a vibrator or vaginal dilator and an oestrogen vaginal cream (available on prescription) or lubricants can be helpful. Lubricants can be bought at chemists or supermarkets.

You might wish to try different positions for sexual intercourse. Everyone is different: be guided by your own feelings. You may find that, particularly near the end of treatment, you don’t feel like intercourse.

It may be some time until you feel ready for vaginal intercourse and you may need to build up your confidence first. Sharing affection with your partner through kissing, caressing and touching can give you both much pleasure. When you do feel ready again for vaginal intercourse, you may wish to proceed slowly. Talking about your needs together is important to help you feel more confident and to reduce any fears.

Sometimes, you might be ready for sexual intercourse and your partner may be anxious about hurting you. If you find that you are having difficulty regaining your sexual relationship, you may need specialist help and advice. You and/or your partner may want to talk with your doctor or nurse about this or seek advice from them on where you might get help.

You may find the Cancer Society's booklet Sexuality and Cancer/Hōkakatanga me te Matepukupuku helpful. You can get a copy from your local Cancer Society, by phoning the Cancer Information Helpline 0800 Cancer (226 237) or by downloading it from our website.

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