Changes in sexuality and intimacy

If you are caring for a partner, you may find the cancer and its treatment affects your sexual relationship. This 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.
  • Cancer treatments, medicines and pain can also reduce libido and may affect someone’s physical ability to have sex.
  • A person’s body image may change after treatment, making them feel self-conscious and embarrassed.
  • The emotional strain of cancer or caring may preoccupy you and cause you to lose interest in sex.
  • Many people worry that physical intimacy might be painful.
  • You might find it hard to switch from being patient and carer back to being sexual partners.

There are various ways to help manage sexual side effects and maintain intimacy during and after cancer treatment.

Listen to podcasts on Cancer Affects the Carer Too and Sex and Cancer

How to manage sexual changes

Ways to manage sexual changes include:

  • Remember that the best sexual tool is communication.
  • Restore the intimacy in your relationship by spending time together. If your partner is well enough, you may be able to go to the cinema or out to dinner. Otherwise, watch a movie at home, give each other massages, do a crossword together, look through old photo albums, or talk about how you first met.
  • Tell your partner you care. Your partner may need reassurance that you love them and find them attractive despite the physical changes from their illness or treatment.
  • Discuss any concerns you have about being intimate with your partner. If you keep quiet and withdraw, your partner may misinterpret your distance and think they’re no longer desirable. Being open with your partner about your sexual needs can help you identify changes to make.
  • Keep an open mind about ways to give and receive sexual pleasure, especially if your usual ways of lovemaking are now uncomfortable or not possible. Some people find lubricants or sexual aids help. For a while, you may need to focus on kissing and cuddling.
  • Take things slowly and spend time getting used to being naked together again.
  • Be patient. You may find that any awkwardness will improve with time and practice.
  • Talk to a counsellor who specialises in helping couples with intimacy and sexual issues. The occupational therapist on your treatment team can suggest practical strategies for positioning and fatigue management.
  • For more on this, call Cancer Council 13 11 20, or see Sexuality, intimacy and cancer.

This information was last reviewed in September 2017.
View who reviewed this content
View our editorial policy

Support services

Support for carers
Cancer Council NSW offers support online, over the phone and in person and can link you to our practical support services

Cancer Council Online Community
A supportive online community for people affected by cancer, including family, friends and carers

Cancer information

What is cancer?
How cancer starts and spreads

Emotions and cancer
Here are some suggestions for managing the physical effects of the diagnosis, coping with the diagnosis, as well as how to get support.

View our publications
Guides and fact sheets for people with cancer, their families and friends