Sexuality and intimacy issues

Radiation therapy can make you feel too tired or sick to want to be intimate. Some people may feel less sexually attractive to their partner because of changes to their body. Talking to your partner or a counsellor about your concerns may help.

For more on this, call 13 11 20 or see Sexuality, Intimacy and Cancer.

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Radiation therapy to the pelvic region

This can make sexual intercourse uncomfortable. You may notice a change in your sexual desire (libido). These changes are common and may be only short term.

Effects on women 

Radiation therapy to the pelvic area usually affects the ovaries. This can cause women to stop having periods, which is called menopause. The symptoms of menopause include hot flushes, dry skin, vaginal dryness, mood swings, trouble sleeping (insomnia) and tiredness. Talk to your doctor or call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for ways to manage these symptoms.

If the vagina is treated with radiation therapy, it may become inflamed and intercourse could be painful. This usually settles down in the weeks after you finish treatment.

Down the track, the vagina may remain dry and can get tighter and shorter. This can make intercourse difficult or painful. Shortening and tightening of the vagina can be prevented by having regular intercourse or using a device called a vaginal dilator. Your treatment team can provide you with a dilator and instructions for how to use it.

Effects on men

Men may have problems getting and maintaining erections, and ejaculation may be painful for a few weeks after treatment. For some men, the difficulty with erections may be permanent.

Talk to your radiation oncologist if these effects are ongoing and causing you distress. They can suggest ways to manage them, such as the use of prescription medicine.

Using contraception

Your doctor may talk to you about using contraception during and after radiation therapy. Although radiation therapy often affects fertility, a woman could still become pregnant (unless the reproductive organs have been removed during surgery). A man having radiation therapy could get his partner pregnant.

A woman’s eggs (ova) and a man’s sperm can be affected by very small amounts of radiation when having radiation therapy to any part of the body. If pregnancy is possible, your doctor will advise you to use contraception or avoid sexual intercourse during radiation therapy and for at least six months after you have finished treatment. Talk to your doctor as soon as possible if pregnancy occurs.

In some cases, your doctor may recommend you use a barrier method of contraception (such as a condom or a female condom) for a certain period of time. This is to prevent the risk of infections if the lining of your genitals is inflamed and sore.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on Understanding Radiation Therapy.

Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

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.

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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”.
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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.

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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
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
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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 December 2017
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