Sex After Cancer

Changes in sex life due to illness, cancer, or chronic pain

No question, these experiences can leave one’s sexuality bruised.

But you can learn how to be sexual with one another despite changes or limitations.

No, your sex life may not be the same—but it can still be satisfying.  You may even surprise yourselves with how intimate you can be without having sex when “sex” means “intercourse.”

Illness, pain, and cancer affect people’s sexuality in different ways. Sometimes, the body itself is physically changed due to treatment, as with breast, gynecological, or prostate cancer. Sometimes a chronic illness causes problems like fatigue or low sex drive. Chronic pain can interfere with sexual pleasure, as can medications used to control pain.

Some tips that may help include:


  • Communicating openly about your fears regarding sex when you’re sick or in the aftermath of an illness
  • Focusing on pleasure rather than appearance
  • Trying new positions and new behaviors that fit who you are now
  • Accepting that “sex = intercourse” may be off the menu
  • Show each other love and caring in other ways, both physical and non-physical
  • Think about the pleasure you still have, and stop comparing yourself to others, or to your past sex life

I have worked in a variety of medical settings and am an expert in medical family therapy. I am trained to work with you and your partner to problem-solve the challenges of illness, pain, or cancer. The goal is to discover the “new normal.” Surprisingly, the “new normal” sometimes is more satisfying than the former sex life, because couples have had a change to learn how to talk about difficult issues, so that their relationship improves and sex becomes an expression of that.


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