- Cancer Information
- Managing side effects
- Sexuality, intimacy and cancer
- Overcoming specific challenges
- Loss of desire
Loss of desire
While it may not be a problem for some people, changes in sex drive or interest (low libido) is common during cancer treatment.
There are many reasons why your libido might change, including:
- treatment side effects such as feeling tired and sick
- being too worried about the cancer to think about sex
- fear of pain during intercourse
- changes in your hormone levels after treatment
- loss of confidence and self-esteem as treatment may have changed the way you look.
Most people find that their libido returns when treatment ends, but keep in mind that hormone levels also change with age and you may notice a gradual decrease in sex drive as you get older.
Adjusting to changes in sex drive can be emotionally and physically challenging for people with cancer and their partners. If you feel you need further support or ideas on how to help your relationship get through this stressful time, consider talking to a counsellor, sexual health physician or sex therapist. Speak to your doctor or call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for contacts in your local area.
Tips for when your libido is low
- Discuss changes to your libido with your partner so they understand how you’re feeling and don’t feel rejected.
- Make it a priority to spend time with your partner. Arrange a “date” or even a weekend away.
- Enjoy other physical contact with your partner without having sexual intercourse to maintain intimacy. Try skin-to-skin touch, such as massaging each other or having a bath together.
- Suggest a quick, gentle lovemaking session rather than a long session.
- Create a sensual mood with soft lights and music, and dress in something that makes you feel sexy. These things may help you get in the mood for sexual activity.
- Keep an open mind. Read an erotic story, watch an erotic movie or explore the range of adult products that are available (e.g. personal lubricants and sex toys like dildos and vibrators). These may help spark your interest in sex or your partner can satisfy themselves, either alone or with you present.
- Stimulate yourself so you become aware of how you like to be touched.
- If your usual sexual positions have become uncomfortable experiment with different ones to find something that feels better.
- Use cushions or pillows to support your weight.
- Change the venue. If you and your partner have been coping with the side effects of treatment at home, book a night away or try using rooms in the house that are not associated with cancer.
- Rearrange the bedroom furniture or think about redecorating once your treatment is over.
- Ask your doctor about having a hormonal assessment to check your hormone levels.
My wife went off sex completely during her treatment, which was difficult for me. When we talked about it, and she told me she still loved me, it made me feel better.
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.