Impact on sexuality and intimacy

Ovarian cancer can affect your sexuality in physical and emotional ways. The impact of these changes depends on many factors, such as treatment and side effects, your self-confidence, and whether you have a partner.

Treatment can cause physical side effects such as vaginal dryness, scarring, internal scar tissue (pelvic adhesions), and narrowing of the vagina. These side effects can make sexual penetration painful, and you may have to explore different ways to orgasm or climax. The experience of having cancer can also reduce your desire for sex (libido).

For most women, sex is more than arousal, intercourse and orgasms. It involves feelings of intimacy and acceptance, as well as being able to give and receive love. Although sexual intercourse may not always be possible, closeness and sharing can still be part of your relationship.

Changes to your body can affect the way you feel about yourself (your self-esteem) and make you feel self-conscious. You may feel less confident about who you are and what you can do. Give yourself time to adapt to any changes. Try to see yourself as a whole person (body, mind and personality) instead of focusing on the parts that have changed.

Look Good Feel Better runs workshops to help people manage the appearance-related effects of cancer treatment – go to lgfb.org.au or call 1800 650 960.


Tips for managing sexual changes

  • Give yourself time to get used to any physical changes. Let your partner know if you don’t feel like having sex, or if you find penetration uncomfortable.
  • Show affection by touching, hugging, massaging, talking and holding hands.
  • Talk to your doctor about ways to manage side effects that change your sex life. These may include using vaginal dilators, lubricants and moisturisers.
  • If vaginal dryness is a problem, take more time before and during sex to help the vagina relax and become more lubricated.
  • Extra lubrication may make intercourse more comfortable. Choose a water-based or silicone-based gel without perfumes or colouring.
  • Spend more time on foreplay and try different ways of getting aroused.
  • Try different positions during sex to work out which position is the most comfortable for you.
  • If you can’t enjoy penetrative sex, explore other ways to climax, such as oral and manual simulation.
  • Talk about your feelings with your sexual partner or doctor, or ask your treatment team for a referral to a sexual therapist or psychologist.
  • Do some physical activity to boost your energy and talk to your GP if your low libido is caused by depression.
  • Call 13 11 20 or see Sexuality, Intimacy and Cancer.
  • Cancer Australia’s booklet Intimacy and sexuality for women with gynaecological cancer – starting a conversation is a good source of information.

Internal scar tissue (pelvic adhesions)

Tissues in the pelvis may stick together after a hysterectomy (known as an adhesion). These can be painful or cause bowel problems such as constipation. Rarely, adhesions to the bowel or bladder may need to be treated with further surgery.


This information was last reviewed in April 2018
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