- Cancer Information
- Managing side effects
- Sexuality, intimacy and cancer
- What are sexuality and intimacy?
What are sexuality and intimacy?
This section is designed to help you understand the ways cancer and its treatment may affect your sex life and relationships.
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
Sex and intimacy are an important part of our wellbeing. It’s how we experience physical and emotional closeness, and develop intimate relationships. It’s closely linked to how we relate to ourselves and others. We hope helps you find practical ways to adapt to any physical or emotional changes you experience, and discover ways to maintain intimacy.
This information is for everyone, no matter what your sex, gender or sexual orientation, or whether you are in relationship or single. The term “partner” means the person/s you choose to share a close intimate relationship with.
When talking about the body, we use the terms “female” and “male”. Transgender, non-binary and intersex people may identify with a different sex or gender.
The role that sexuality plays in your life is influenced by many things – including your role as a parent or partner, age, health, relationships, culture and beliefs, opportunities and interests, where you live, and how you feel about yourself (self-esteem).
This 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 lots of ways – such as the clothes you wear, the way you move, the way you have sex, and who you have sex with. Sexuality is about more than just your sexual orientation.
This refers to the attraction you feel towards another person. For example, you may identify as heterosexual (straight), homosexual (gay or lesbian) or bisexual (attracted to men and women).
This is more than just intercourse with penetration. Sex includes touching, kissing, masturbation and oral sex. It can be one way to experience intimacy, but intimacy isn’t just about sex.
This is about feeling close to someone. This can be physically or emotionally. It can mean loving and being loved. It can be about showing mutual care and concern, or that you value someone and feel valued in return. Intimacy can be expressed in different ways. It may be through an emotional connection. You may share your thoughts and feelings with each other or share a special place or a meaningful experience. Even for those who don’t have sex, intimate touch such as kissing, cuddling or holding hands is often still important.
Podcast: Sex and Cancer
Dr Margaret McGrath, Head of Discipline: Occupational Therapy, Sydney School of Health Sciences, The University of Sydney, NSW; Yvette Adams, Consumer; Dr Kimberley Allison, Out with Cancer study, Western Sydney University, NSW; Andreea Ardeleanu, Mental Health Accredited Social Worker, Cancer Counselling Service, Canberra Health Service, ACT; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Dr Kerrie Clover, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Psycho-Oncology Service, Calvary Mater Newcastle, NSW; Maree Grier, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Mark Jenkin, Consumer; Bronwyn Jennings, Gynaecology Oncology Clinical Nurse Consultant, Mater Health, QLD; Dr Rosalie Power, Out with Cancer study, Western Sydney University, NSW; Dr Margaret Redelman OAM, Medical Practitioner and Clinical Psychosexual Therapist, Sydney, NSW; Kerry Santoro, Prostate Cancer Specialist Nurse Consultant, Southern Adelaide Local Health Network, SA; Simone Sheridan, Sexual Health Nurse Consultant, Sexual Health Services – Austin Health, Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre, VIC; Prof Jane Ussher, Chair, Women’s Heath Psychology and Chief Investigator, Out with Cancer study, Western Sydney University, NSW; Paula Watt, Clinical Psychologist, WOMEN Centre, WA.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.