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Having Sex FAQs

Cancer is not contagious. There are however some viruses such as the Human papillomavirus that are sexually transmitted. HPV has been predominantly found in all patients with cervical cancer and has a strong link to some rectal cancers. HPV is treatable, and if you are tested positive for HPV it does not mean you will develop cancer. But it is imperative that you speak to your doctor whether you need to be treated to reduce the chances of it causing cancerous cells.

Yes, if you feel up to it. Sex can play an important role in a person's mental health and well-being, as well as being a pivotal factor in maintaining a healthy relationship. Nevertheless, there are some factors, such as undergoing surgery or being neutropenic, that could require you to adjust how or when you have sex. Similarly, there could also be some periods when it is best not to be sexually active (for example if you have a low platelet count).

The general rule of thumb is chemotherapy is still active in your body for approximately 72 hours after being administered. During this period your bodily fluids (urine, semen, sweat, vaginal discharge) are cytotoxic. It is best to avoid having sex during this period, but for those on long term chemo, such as oral chemo, using a condom will protect your partner from being exposed to the chemotherapy agents that could be present in the vagina or semen.

It is still possible to get pregnant while having chemo, but chemo can cause defects the fetus so it best to always use a condom while having treatment in addition to any other contraception you may be using. 

Chemotherapy can affect your white cells and red blood cells. The point of when this is the lowest is called the nadir period. During the nadir period, you are more at risk of bleeding and developing infections. It is best to avoid all sexual intercourse during this period due to the increased risk of bleeding, bruising and getting an infection. 

If you feel uncomfortable talking to your doctor about sex, ask to speak to your clinical nurse specialist, or someone else you feel more comfortable opening up to. 

Having sex after surgery will depend on the type of surgery you have, and your recovery period. Your body needs to rest for it to repair and heal properly, and this can take time. Surgery also may limit function and so you may not be able to get your body into positions you previously could. Rehabilitation with a physio will be able to help with flexibility and mobility. 

Radiotherapy can leave your skin dry and reddened. Friction and rubbing can aggravate your skin. Depending on where you are having radiotherapy, it may better to change positions to ensure your skin is not being excessively rubbed. 

No, not at all. Cancer can affect your libido, both directly and indirectly. Cancer treatments can leave you with a new look, that may not elicit confidence or make you feel sexy. This is a completely normal feeling and you’re not alone. The good news is that there are ways to help you increase your confidence. Speaking to a psychologist, or a look good feel better counsellor can help improve your confidence, as well as provide tips to change your look up.

Cancer and its treatments can leave you to feel exhausted and tired, which can decrease libido. Have a look through our feeling tired section for products that can help with cancer fatigue.

Furthermore, hormones can fluctuate during cancer treatment. Hormones play a pivotal part in your libido, so you may find during some points of your treatments (especially hormonal treatments) your sex drive may decrease. 

Vaginal dryness, vaginal atrophy and erectile dysfunction can also be a consequence of cancer treatments. There are medications and non-clinical products such as lubricants and moisturisers that can help improve these side effects. Tell your doctor or nurse immediately if you start experiencing any of these symptoms. 

Sexual positions will depend on how you are feeling and what treatment you are going through. Depending on what treatment you are having there are important things to remember:

Radiotherapy-rubbing or friction on the radiotherapy reaction area can exacerbate irritation, so it is best to avoid skin on skin contact.

Surgery-Wounds need time to heal and recover. Depending on where and when you had surgery, it is best not to exert the area and should rearrange yourself accordingly. If you have stitches or sutures in, it is best to avoid sexual intercourse until they are removed or dissolved due to the risk of them separating.

Chemo-Chemo can make you feel fatigued, so it is important not to exert yourself too much. Additionally, remember that chemo can remain in your system and cause your semen or vaginal fluids to be cytotoxic, so always wear a condom to protect your partner.

Sex can be a difficult question to talk about. Particularly if you are talking to someone who you have not built a rapport with. It is often overlooked when discussing side effects and symptoms, due to health care professionals and patients feeling awkward about starting the conversation. Additionally, there is a stigma associated with sex and feeling ill; most people just presume that once you have cancer your sex life reduces.

But this is not the case and does not need to be the case.

Sex can help improve mood, confidence and help you relax; all are which are needed when going through a cancer diagnosis, or cancer treatment. Mustering up some courage to discuss sex with a healthcare professional can feel awkward, but it may provide you with the reassurance you need, or give you the answer you require.

Although they may not be able to answer specific cancer-related sexual questions, psychologists and counsellors will be able to provide advice regarding sex and confidence. They’re also very approachable and provide safe environments to talk. Being associated with a larger hospital or group, they also will be able to inform you who to ask or seek the answer themselves for questions they cannot answer.


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