Talking about sex

Finding the right words when we talk about sex can be difficult. Embarrassment can make it hard to say what we want and it can often be difficult to bring up the subject of sex at an appointment with a doctor. You may find that health professionals don’t think to ask whether your cancer or its treatment is affecting your sex life.

One way to reduce the embarrassment is to write down your list of questions and show the list to your doctor or nurse at your next appointment. If you feel more comfortable talking to someone different, you may wish to speak with Cancer Society Information Helpline staff (0800 226 237) or a counsellor or sex therapist.

They will focus on how you feel about yourself as a sexual person and about your relationships, rather than only focusing on symptoms in your body or how your body functions.

Effects on your sexual relationships

If it’s your partner you’re supporting, you may find that cancer and its treatment affects your sexual relationship. However, sex may be one of the things that makes life more normal.

Talking openly with your partner about sex can help. Speak to your partner about whether or not they need time and space to recover from treatment. How it affects your sex life will depend on the type of cancer, the treatment and its side effects.

  • Tiredness can make people lose interest in sex during and after treatment. This is called a lowered libido.
  • Pain, medications and treatment can also reduce sexual feelings and desire. They can also affect someone’s physical ability to have sex.
  • A person’s body may change after treatment, making them feel self-conscious and embarrassed.
  • The stress of caring for someone with cancer may mean that you, as a supporter, cannot think about anything else and lose interest in sex.
  • Many people worry that touching their partner will cause pain.
  • If you provide personal care, such as showering the person or helping them go to the toilet, this can change the way you feel about having sex. There are some ways you may be able to improve your intimate relationship with the person who has cancer.


  • Restore the intimacy in your relationship by spending time alone together. If your partner is well enough, you may be able to go to a movie or out to dinner. Otherwise, watch a DVD together, give each other massages, read the newspaper together, look through photo albums or talk about how you first met.
  • Your partner may need to be told that you love them and find them attractive despite the physical changes from cancer or treatment.
  • If you no longer feel sexually attracted to the person with cancer, it may be helpful to talk with a trusted friend or a counsellor about how to handle this.
  • Discuss any fears you have about being intimate with your partner or worries about causing them pain. Many people feel embarrassed talking about their sexual needs, but being open can help you identify changes you need to make.
  • Go to an adult shop together and see what is available.