Sex and fertility

Chemotherapy can have an impact on your desire (libido) or ability to have sex. It may also affect sexual organs and functioning in men and women. This can affect your ability to have children (fertility).

Learn more about:


Changes in sexuality

A range of issues can cause people to lose interest in sex while they’re having treatment. Aside from feeling tired and unwell, you may feel less confident about who you are and what you can do. There may also be a physical reason for not being able or interested in having sex, e.g. vaginal dryness or erection difficulties. Changes in appearance can also affect feelings of self-esteem and, in turn, sexuality.

If you have a partner, it may be helpful for them to understand the reasons why your libido has changed and to know that people can have a fulfilling sex life after cancer, but it often takes time. Some partners may also feel concerned about having sex – they might fear injuring the person with cancer or feel uncomfortable with the changes in their partner.

If you have sex after receiving chemotherapy, follow these contraception recommendations.

Sexual intercourse may not always be possible, but closeness and sharing can still be a part of your relationship. Talk about how you’re feeling with your partner and take time to adapt to any changes.

Try to see yourself as a whole person (body, mind and personality) instead of focusing only on what has changed. If you’re worried about the changes to your relationships or sexual functioning, you may find talking to a psychologist or counsellor helpful.

For more on this, see Sexuality, Intimacy and Cancer, and listen to The Thing About Cancer podcast episode on sex and cancer.


Using contraception

Your doctor may talk to you about using contraception during and after chemotherapy. Although chemotherapy often affects fertility, this doesn’t mean it rules out pregnancy. Some women can still become pregnant while having chemotherapy, and a man having chemotherapy could still make his partner pregnant.

Chemotherapy drugs can harm an unborn baby, so women should plan to avoid becoming pregnant during chemotherapy treatment, and men should not father a child. If you or your partner become pregnant, talk to your specialist immediately.

The type of birth control you choose will depend on what you and your partner are comfortable using. Some people use barrier contraception such as a condom or female condom, which provides protection against any chemotherapy drugs that may be present in their body fluids.


Changes in fertility

If you want to have children in the future, talk to your doctor about how chemotherapy might affect you and what options are available. Women may be able to store eggs (ova) or embryos, and men may be able to store sperm for use at a later date. This needs to be done before chemotherapy starts and requires careful consideration. For more on this, see Fertility and Cancer.

Effects of chemotherapy on women

Chemotherapy can reduce the levels of hormones produced by the ovaries. For some women, this causes periods to become irregular during chemotherapy but they return to normal after treatment. For other women, chemotherapy may cause periods to stop completely (menopause). After menopause, women can’t conceive children. Signs of menopause include hot flushes, sweating (especially at night), and dry skin. Menopause – particularly when it occurs in women under 40 – may, in the long term, cause bones to become weaker and break more easily. This is called osteoporosis. Talk to your doctor about ways to manage menopausal symptoms.

Effects of chemotherapy on men

Chemotherapy drugs may lower the number of sperm produced and reduce their ability to move. This can sometimes cause infertility, which may be temporary or permanent. The ability to have and keep an erection may also be affected, but this is usually temporary. If the problem is ongoing, to your doctor.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on Chemotherapy.


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Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

Need more help? Visit: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4059

Kobo

To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
Need more information? Visit: http://www.kobo.com/help/koboaura/response/?id=3784&type=3

Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

Need more help? Visit: https://au.readerstore.sony.com/apps_and_devices/

Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=help_search_1-1?ie=UTF8&nodeId=200767340&qid=1395967989&sr=1-1
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit www.amazon.com/manageyourkindle, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
Need more help? Visit https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200375630

Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.


This information was last reviewed in August 2018
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