When you’re feeling sick, your body is changing or you’re stuck in hospital, sex may be the last thing on your mind. But, when you are feeling better you might wonder about what effect your cancer or cancer treatment might have on your sexuality.
Sexuality is not just your sexual feelings towards others. Sexuality is an important part of who you are, how you feel about yourself, your body image, your sexual preferences and how you express yourself sexually.
It’s important to talk to your doctor or someone else in your YCS team if you are worried about any of these things.
How cancer can affect your sexuality
For a young person dealing with puberty and sexual feelings for the first time, you may not be even thinking about having sex and can skip this section!
For older adolescents and young adults, it’s normal to be concerned about how your sex life might be affected. Most young people ask questions like:
Will I still be able to have sex?
Will I still be able to get an erection?
Will I still be able to have an orgasm?
Will I still be able to ejaculate?
Can I masturbate?
Will I lose my sex drive?
Will I be less attractive to my partner?
It’s important to find out how your cancer or cancer treatment might affect your sexuality or sexual function (your ability to have and enjoy sex).
Some problems can be embarrassing to talk about such as incontinence (leaking urine), impotence (inability to get or maintain an erection), reduced libido (lack of desire) and pain or dryness in sexual organs before, during or after sex. But there are ways to overcome most of them, so it’s worth talking to your YCS nurse or someone else in the team you feel comfortable with.
Sexual relationships while you’re having treatment
Generally, unless your doctor tells you not to, there is no reason why you cannot have sex while receiving treatment for your cancer.
But, depending on the treatment you are having, you may have to take special precautions. If you are having chemotherapy, always use a condom to prevent the drugs being passed on through semen or vaginal secretions. Sometimes you will be at high risk of infections so sex may be too much of a risk.
Ask your doctor or nurse what kind of contact is okay and about any precautions you need to take.
Sex after cancer
Cancer and cancer treatment can affect your sexuality (which includes how you feel about yourself, your body image and sexual feelings towards others) and your sexual function (your ability to have and enjoy sex).
Some physical problems can be embarrassing to talk about, like incontinence (leaking urine), impotence (inability to get or maintain an erection), reduced libido (lack of desire) and pain or dryness in sexual organs before, during or after sex.
But there are ways to overcome most of them, so it’s worth talking to your YCS nurse or someone else in the team you feel comfortable with.
Cancer treatment can also leave you feeling ‘washed out’ and with limited energy for many months or even longer. You may have lost interest in sex, feel unattractive and worry that you will never be able to be sexually active again.
If you have a partner, boyfriend or girlfriend you should talk to them about your concerns. Usually they pass fairly quickly. And until then, you can still have a great relationship without having sex.
Need more info or advice?
If you have any questions at all about sexual relationships or your sexual health, talk to a member of your YCS team. They can recommend strategies and services to help.