Sex and Men With Cancer -- Overview

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The single man and cancer

Getting through cancer treatment can be even tougher for a single man. Some of the scars left by cancer are public. These include the lost hair, a lost limb, or scarred face. Others cannot be seen by people on the street. These private scars can be just as painful, though, since the people who do see them are the ones who matter most.

Perhaps the most private scar left by cancer is the damage to how you see yourself. You may wonder about how active you can be and even how long you will live. If you had hoped to marry or remarry, you may not want to involve a partner in an uncertain future. Maybe you can’t have children, or aren’t sure if you can. Maybe you can still have children but fear that cancer will not give you time to see your child grow up. If you feel stuck and want help moving on, see the section called “Finding professional help for sex problems during and after cancer treatment.”

When dating, people who have had cancer often avoid talking about it. At a time when closeness is so important, it seems risky to draw attention to your problems. Sometimes you can ignore the cancer for a time. But when a relationship gets serious, silence is not the best plan. If you don’t talk about it, cancer can become a secret that will limit your closeness to your partner. A loving partner is someone who accepts you as you are.

The risk of rejection

It’s true that some people may reject you because of your cancer or cancer treatment. Even without cancer, people reject each other because of looks, beliefs, personality, or their own issues. The sad truth is that some single people with cancer don’t even try to date. Instead of focusing on their good points, they tell themselves that no partner would accept them now. Of course, you can avoid being rejected by staying at home, but you also miss the chance to build a happy, healthy relationship.

When to talk about your cancer

It can be hard to know when to tell a new partner about your cancer. If you have a stoma, genital scars, or a sexual problem, you may worry even more. There are no clear rules. But it’s best to discuss cancer when a relationship starts to get serious.

  • Tell a potential partner about genital scars, a stoma, or sexual problems when you feel that the person accepts you and likes you for who you are.
  • Discuss your cancer when a new relationship starts to deepen.
  • Be ready for rejection: imagine the worst possible reaction, and how you would respond. But don’t let fear keep you from going after a relationship that might work.

How to bring it up

Try having “the cancer talk” when you and your partner are relaxed and feeling close. Ask your partner a question that leaves room for many answers. The question gives them a chance to think about the new information and respond, and helps you see how your partner takes this news.

One way is just to mention it, followed with your question. “I really like where our relationship is going and I need you to know that I had ______ cancer many years ago. How do you think that might affect our relationship?”

You can also share your own feelings: “I had ______ cancer ___ years ago. I guess I don’t want to bring it up because I’m afraid you’d rather be with someone who hasn’t had it. It also scares me to remember that time in my life, but I need you to know about it. What are your thoughts or feelings about my having had cancer?”

You can even practice telling someone you’re dating about having cancer. What message do you want to give? Try some different ways of saying it, and ask a friend for feedback. Ask your friend to take the role of a new partner who rejects you because you’ve had cancer. Have your friend tell you what you dread hearing the most, and practice your response.

When you feel some confidence in your self-worth and feel able to handle rejection, you are ready for the real world. Then, when you start to meet or date new people, think of it as part of a learning process rather than something you must do well on your first try.

Your social life can be a plus

Try working on other areas of your social life, too. Single people can build a network of close friends, casual friends, and family. Call friends, plan visits, and share activities. Get into a hobby, interest group, or something else that will increase your social circle.

Some volunteer groups and support groups are set up for people who have faced cancer. You can form a better view of yourself when you get feedback about your strengths from others. If you feel shy about meeting new people, practice how to handle it. Talk to yourself in the mirror, or ask a close friend or family member to play the part with you.


Last Medical Review: 05/16/2013
Last Revised: 06/12/2013