Sexuality, intimacy and cancer
This information has been prepared to help you understand the ways cancer and its treatment may affect your sexuality, sex life and relationships.
Sexuality and intimacy are an important part of our wellbeing. Sexuality is part of how we experience physical and emotional closeness, and how we develop and maintain our intimate relationships. It is closely linked to how we relate to ourselves and others.
We hope this helps you find practical ways to adapt to any physical and emotional changes you experience, and discover new ways to enjoy intimacy. The information is relevant to all individuals, regardless of your sexual orientation and whether you are single or in a relationship. In this section, the term “partner” means husband, wife, de facto, same-sex partner, boyfriend or girlfriend.
Learn more about:
- What are sexuality and intimacy?
- Sexuality after a cancer diagnosis
- The sexual response
- Treatment side effects and sexuality
- Resuming sexual activity after treatment
- Overcoming specific challenges
- Concerns for partners
- Questions for your doctor
Sexuality is about who you are, how you see yourself, how you express yourself sexually, and your sexual feelings for others. It can be expressed in many ways, such as by the clothes you wear, the way you move, the way you have sex, and who you have sex with.
Sexuality is different from sexual orientation, which is the attraction you feel towards another person, for example you might be heterosexual (“straight”), homosexual (“gay or lesbian”), bisexual or asexual. You might identify as LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex).
The role that sexuality plays in your life is influenced by your age, environment, health, relationships, culture and beliefs, opportunities and interests, and how you feel about yourself (self-esteem).
Sex is often considered intercourse with penetration, but it can also include touching, kissing, self-stimulation and oral sex. Sex is a way to experience intimacy, but intimacy is not necessarily about sex. Being intimate means being physically and emotionally close to someone else.
Intimacy is about:
- loving and being loved
- demonstrating mutual care and concern
- showing you value another person and feeling valued in return.
Intimacy is also expressed in different ways: by talking and listening on a personal level; by sharing a special place or a meaningful experience; and through physical affection. Most people need some physical connection to others. Even for people who are not sexually active, touch is still important.
Podcast: Sex and Cancer
Helena Green, Clinical Sexologist and Counsellor, inSync for Life, WA; Anita Brown-Major, Occupational Therapist, Thrive Rehab, VIC; Karina Campbell, Consumer; Nicole Kinnane, Nurse Consultant, Gynae-oncology Services, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Jessica Medd, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Headway Health and Concord Hospital, NSW; Chris Rivett, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Kath Schubach, Urology Nurse Practitioner, President – Australia and New Zealand Urological Nurses Society (ANZUNS), VIC; Prof Jane Ussher, Chair, Women’s Health Psychology, Translational Health Research Institute (THRI), School of Medicine, Western Sydney University, NSW; Maria Voukelatos, Consumer. We would like to thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.