- Cancer Information
- LGBTQI+ People and Cancer
- Sexual intimacy and cancer
- Communicating with your partner/s
Communicating with your partner/s
Coping with treatment and recovery may affect your relationship with sexual partners. Your established roles may change, they may worry about hurting you, or you might feel too tired for intimacy.
Research suggests that communicating during treatment can help partners work through any issues. If you find that the changes after cancer treatment are getting in the way of a fulfilling sexual life, ask your GP or cancer specialists for a referral to a counsellor, sexual health physician or sex therapist.
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Sexual activity and LGBTQI+ young people
Adolescence and the young adult years are a time for exploring your sexuality and identity, including your sexual orientation and gender. This process can be more complex if you are diagnosed with cancer. If you’ve recently started exploring your identity, needing to have treatment for cancer can interrupt this.
If you already feel different or isolated from people your own age because of your sexual orientation, gender or intersex variation, cancer can make you feel even more lonely.
Worrying about disclosure
Getting diagnosed and treated for cancer means accessing many health services. It can be challenging to talk about your sexual orientation, gender or intersex variation with others when you are still working it out yourself or have only recently come out. Some young people hide their identity from health professionals, because they fear being judged, discriminated against or outed to family.
Get in touch with Canteen. This organisation offers counselling in person, via phone, email or direct message (DM). Canteen also runs online forums and camps. Call 1800 226 833 or visit Canteen. If you’re feeling anxious or depressed, call QLife on 1800 184 527.
Sexual activity and single people
If you’re single, you may feel nervous about hook-ups or starting a new relationship during or after treatment. You may wonder if you have to tell a new person about your cancer diagnosis and when to do this. This could depend on whether the relationship is casual, or you see it becoming more long term.
It may help to take new relationships slowly and share personal information when you feel you can trust the person. You can discuss how to adapt your sexual activity, try more activities without penetration, or change the length and intensity of your sexual encounters. You can also talk to a psychosexual or relationship therapist for more suggestions.
You might decide that you want to focus on your health and wellbeing or that you don’t have the energy for hook-ups or a new relationship.
Tips for hooking up
- Set boundaries via messages before meeting.
- Consider adding something about your cancer journey on your dating profile.
- Share details of your diagnosis and side effects when you feel ready. You don’t have to reveal everything in one go. You can disclose the details over several conversations. It can be in person or via text.
- Practise what you want to say and how you say it, so it feels more natural.
- Talk to a psychosexual or relationship therapist for strategies and support.
For more general information on starting new relationships, see Sexuality, intimacy and cancer.
Podcast: Sex and Cancer
The information on this page is also available for download.
We thank the chief investigators from the Out with Cancer research project: Prof Jane Ussher, Prof Janette Perz, Prof Martha Hickey, Prof Suzanne Chambers, Prof Gary Dowsett, Prof Ian Davis, Prof Katherine Boydell, Prof Kerry Robinson and Dr Chloe Parton. Partner investigators were Dr Fiona McDonald and A/Prof Antoinette Anazodo. Research Associates were Dr Rosalie Power, Dr Kimberley Allison and Dr Alexandra J. Hawkey.
We thank the reviewers of our LGBTQI+ People and Cancer booklet: Prof Jane Ussher, Chair, Women’s Heath Psychology and Chief Investigator, Out with Cancer study, Western Sydney University, NSW; ACON; Dr Kimberley Allison, Out with Cancer study, Western Sydney University, NSW; Dr Katherine Allsopp, Supportive and Palliative Care Specialist, Westmead Hospital, NSW; A/Prof Antoinette Anazodo OAM, Paediatric and Adolescent Oncologist, Sydney Children’s Hospital, NSW; Megan Bathgate, Consumer; Gregory Bock, Clinical Nurse Consultant–Oncology Coordinator, Urology Cancer Nurse Coordination Service, WA Cancer & Palliative Care Network, WA; Morgan Carpenter, Executive Director, Intersex Human Rights Australia (formerly OII Australia); Prof Lorraine Chantrill, Medical Co-Director Cancer Services, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, NSW; A/Prof Ada Cheung, Endocrinologist, Head, Trans Health Research Group, Department of Medicine (Austin Health), The University of Melbourne, VIC; Bonney Corbin, Australian Women’s Health Network; Cristyn Davies, Research Fellow, Specialty of Child and Adolescent Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health, The University of Sydney and Children’s Hospital Westmead Clinical School, NSW; Prof Ian Davis, Professor of Medicine, Monash University and Eastern Health, Medical Oncologist, Eastern Health, Chair, ANZUP Cancer Trials Group, VIC; Rebecca Dominguez, President, Bisexual Alliance Victoria; Liz Duck-Chong, Projects Coordinator, TransHub and Trans Health Equity, ACON, NSW; Lauren Giordano, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Hall & Wilcox (law firm); Natalie Halse, BCNA Consumer Representative; Jem Hensley, Consumer; Prof Martha Hickey, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, The University of Melbourne, and Director of the Gynaecology Research Centre, The Women’s Hospital, VIC; Kim Hobbs, Clinical Specialist Social Worker – Gynaecological Cancer, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Dr Laura Kirsten, Principal Clinical Psychologist, Nepean Cancer Care Centre, NSW; Amber Loomis, Policy and Research Coordinator, LGBTIQ+ Health Australia; Julie McCrossin and Melissa Gibson, Consumers; Dr Fiona McDonald, Research Manager, Canteen, NSW; Dr Gary Morrison, Shine a Light (LGBTQIA+ Cancer Support Group); Penelope Murphy, Cancer Council NSW Liaison, Prince of Wales Hospital, NSW; Dr Rosalie Power, Out with Cancer study, Western Sydney University, NSW; Jan Priaulx, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Paul Scott-Williams, Consumer; Simone Sheridan, Sexual Health Nurse Consultant, Sexual Health Services, Austin Health, VIC; Cheryl Waller and Rhonda Beach, Consumers.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.