For many people, having cancer changes how they feel about themselves and how they feel about sex. 

How could cancer affect my sex life?

Having cancer does not mean that you are no longer a sexual person but it could change:

  • how you can physically give and feel sexual pleasure
  • your body image or how you see yourself
  • your role within the relationship
  • your emotions and feelings
  • your sex drive (libido)

These changes may only be temporary. If they are long-lasting or permanent, you can find new ways to enjoy sex.

Recovery can take time. Try not to be discouraged if it takes longer to become aroused, or you feel less aroused than before.

You might find it helpful to speak with a counsellor or sex therapist who will focus on how you feel and your relationships. We have free counselling available for people affected by cancer. You could have counselling on your own or with your partner. 

I was a strong, active person. Now that I’ve been diagnosed with cancer I feel my body has let me down and I’m like a different person.


If you've lost interest in sex

It's okay if you’re not ready for sex, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy being close.

Talking openly about how you feel is the key to getting through these changes.

Cancer treatments can often cause you to very tired (fatigue) and reduce your desire for sex (your libido).

You can find a time to be together when you feel less tired. This may be at a different time of day or night than you usually have sex.

If you feel depressed, anxious, or afraid about your cancer, treatment, or relationship, you are less likely to be interested in sex.

Sex and cancer when you're single

If you are single, your sex life is still an important part of who you are.

You may find that masturbation helps to satisfy your sexual needs. Masturbation may be different after treatment. Take time to relax and explore your body and find what works for you. You could try using a water-based lubricant to increase sensation.

If you're starting a new relationship, it can be tough to decide what to tell a new partner about your cancer and when to tell them.

There is no simple answer that will work well for everyone. To help you decide, it may be useful to think about how safe you feel in this new relationship.

Many people are worried new partners will reject them because of the way their bodies have changed. You may find it useful to talk to a counsellor about starting a new relationship or any worries you have.

If you're embarrassed about changes to your body

If cancer and its treatment have changed your body, you may not feel as comfortable as before or worry that your partner won't find you attractive anymore.

Talk to your partner about how you feel and how they can support you. Most people find their partners are much less worried about the changes than they had thought.

You can find what things make you feel comfortable during sex and intimacy. For example, you could wear clothing that covers scars or have the light turned down low.

Try to find what you could do to make you feel the most comfortable during sex and intimate moments. For example, you could wear clothing that covers scars or have the lights turned down low.

I found having sex with my bra on after a mastectomy made me feel sexier and it kept my prosthesis in place.


Can having sex cause cancer?

You cannot catch cancer from having sex with your partner and having sex will not cause cancer to spread to other parts of your body.

Some cancers of the cervix, vulva, anus, penis and mouth are linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV). 

People who have been diagnosed with HPV-related cancer may be worried about spreading cancer to their sexual partners. Likewise, people who have HPV may worry that they have caused their partner's cancer. 

If you are worried, it can be helpful to talk to a health professional or phone our Cancer Information Helpline 0800 226 237.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus spread through skin contact, often during sex, which causes cell changes. Many sexually active people will have HPV at some time during their life.

Your immune system is normally able to fight an HPV infection, and usually, infections come and go without causing any problems.

In some people, the virus can lie dormant for many months or even years before causing cell changes. These cell changes may develop into cancer. 

The HPV vaccine is free for people aged between 9-26 years under the National Immunisation Schedule. 

If you missed out on getting the vaccine at primary school, talk to your doctor. The vaccine may still be right for you. It will prevent new HPV infections. 

Some people believe their cancer is punishment for having sex with many partners. Some think it’s a punishment for being unfaithful or for past sexual experiences they’re ashamed of.

It might be helpful to speak to a counsellor about these thoughts. We offer free counselling for both individuals and couples.

Need someone to talk to?
8:30 am to 5:00 pm Monday to Friday
0800 226 237 Information nurse

We know that going through cancer is tough and can raise many questions. You are not alone.

We have health professionals to answer your questions and provide the support you need. Get in touch

Last updated: December 22, 2022