Relationships and sexuality

For some people, having cancer and treatment for it has no effect on their sexuality and sex lives. For others, it can have a profound impact, affecting how they feel about themselves, their attractiveness, and their sexual desire. This can be the case whether they have a partner or are not in a relationship. Dealing with any changes is an ongoing process of adjustment.

The side effects of chemotherapy may mean that you do not feel like having sex because you feel unattractive, too tired, and nauseous, or are in pain. It is important to keep communication open with your partner–for both of you to share your fears and needs.

Sexual intercourse is only one of the ways you can express affection for each other. Communicating and sharing your feelings can result in greater openness, sensitivity, and physical closeness between you. Gestures of affection, gentle touches, cuddling, and fondling can also reassure you of your need for one another.

The Cancer Society has a booklet you may find useful titled Sexuality and Cancer/Ho-kakatanga me te Matepukupuku: A guide for people with cancer and their partners that you can view on the Society’s website or receive by contacting your local Cancer Society for a copy, or by ringing the cancer information nurses on the Cancer Information Helpline 0800 CANCER (226 237).


Your periods may become less regular or stop altogether.

You may get hot flushes or other symptoms of menopause.

Your vagina may itch or burn or feel dry. You may get vaginal infections, such as thrush. Ask your cancer doctor or nurse for something to help if you have any of these problems.


During treatment some men may have difficulties achieving or maintaining an erection, though others will be fine. For most men their usual sex drive and fertility return sometime after treatment is over.


You may become infertile, either temporarily or permanently, during treatment. But this does not always happen. Talk to your cancer doctor about this before you start treatment. If you want to have a child or more children, talk to your cancer doctor about your options.

Contraception is important during treatment due to the slight risk of birth defects or miscarriage. It is usually recommended that contraception is used for at least 12 months after chemotherapy is completed.

If you are pregnant now talk to your cancer doctor about it straight away. Talk to someone you trust if you are experiencing ongoing problems with sexual relationships. Friends, nurses, or your GP may be able to help. Your Cancer Society can also provide information about counsellors who specialise in this area.

“Through the chemo I lost all my sexual drive and the doctors got me on to pills and things have come right, but that was one side of treatment that was a downer.” Paul

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