Understanding Sex and CancerDownload this book (pdf, 1.07 mb)
How cancer can affect sexuality
When you are first diagnosed with cancer, it's natural to focus on getting well. You may not think about or be interested in sex or intimacy for a while.
During or after treatment you may start to think about the impact of cancer on your sexuality.
Emotions and sexuality
Dealing with a cancer diagnosis, its treatment and other challenges can make you feel like you're on an emotional roller-coaster. This can change what you think about yourself (your self-esteem). You may feel less confident about who you are and what you can do, particularly if your body has changed physically.
These negative emotions can affect your sexuality and your attitude towards intimacy. Acknowledge the different emotions you feel so you can try to address them as soon as possible if they are affecting your day-to-day life.
It will help to talk about how you feel with your partner, other people who have had cancer, or a professional you feel comfortable with, such as a doctor or a counsellor.
- Anger: It's normal to feel angry about having cancer and how it may have affected your sexuality or fertility (ability to have children).
- Anxiety: The thought of having sex again after your cancer treatment can cause anxiety. You may be unsure of how you'll perform or self-conscious about being seen naked. If you're single, you may feel anxious about getting involved in a new relationship.
- Fear: You may worry that others will avoid or reject you when they see how your body has changed. You may not be able to imagine yourself being in a sexual situation again.
- Guilt: Some people wonder if past sexual activity contributed to the cancer. Cancer is not sexually transmitted, but a few cancers may be linked to a sexually transmitted infection - e.g. human papillomavirus (HPV) is linked to cervical and anal cancers.
- Shame: You may feel ashamed by the changes that affect your sexuality, your appearance or the way your body functions.
- Self-consciousness: If your body has changed physically after treatment, you may feel self-conscious. Often people discover their partner isn't as concerned about these changes as they are. Communicating with your partner about this is important.
Changes to your body
Cancer treatment can change your appearance and how your body works. This can affect your body image. Common changes include:
- weight gain or loss
- hair loss
- scars from surgery
- having a body part removed
- altered sexual function.
Body image is influenced by what you think about your current appearance, how you would like to look, and how you would like others to see you. For many people, their perception of their body may not match how they appear to others. You may find that you are focusing on changes that other people do not notice or tend to overlook. Negative feelings may make you feel less sexual.
- Find ways to increase your sense of self-worth, as this boosts self-confidence and can help you feel more attractive and sexual.
- Look at the gradual improvement in your body after the initial cancer treatment.
- Accept compliments from people.
- Remember that although sexual attractiveness is often judged on how people look, sex appeal is actually a combination of looks and other qualities, such as friendliness, thoughtfulness and sense of humour.
- A program called Look Good"¦Feel Better can teach you how to manage changes to your skin, hair and general appearance with cosmetics, wigs, turbans and scarves.