Sexuality for the Man With Cancer

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Keeping your sex life going despite cancer treatment

Here are some points to help your sex life during or after cancer treatment.

Learn as much as you can about the possible effects your cancer treatment may have on your sexuality. Talk with your doctor, nurse, or any other member of your health care team. When you know what to expect, you can plan how you might handle those issues.

Keep in mind that, no matter what kind of cancer treatment you have, you’ll still be able to feel pleasure from touching. Few cancer treatments (other than those affecting some areas of the brain or spinal cord) damage the nerves and muscles involved in feeling pleasure from touch and reaching orgasm. For example, some types of treatment can damage a man’s ability to have erections. But most men who cannot have erections or produce semen can still have the feeling of orgasm with the right kind of touching. This makes it worthwhile for people with cancer to try sexual touching. Pleasure and satisfaction are possible, even if some aspects of sexuality have changed.

Try to keep an open mind about ways to feel sexual pleasure. Some couples have a narrow view of what sexual activity means to them. If both partners can’t reach orgasm through or during penetration, some may feel disappointed. But for people treated for cancer, there may be times when intercourse is not possible. Those times can be a chance to learn new ways to give and receive sexual pleasure. You and your partner can help each other reach orgasm through touching and stroking. At times, just cuddling can be pleasurable. You can also continue to enjoy touching yourself. Do not stop sexual pleasure just because your usual routine has been changed.

Try to have clear, 2-way talks about sex with your partner and with your doctor, too. The worst enemy of sexual health is silence. If you are too embarrassed to ask your doctor whether sexual activity is OK, you may never find out. Talk to your doctor and tell your partner what you learn. Otherwise, your partner may be afraid that sex might hurt you. Good communication is the key to adjusting your sexual routine when cancer changes your body. If you feel weak or tired and want your partner to take a more active role in touching you, say so. If some part of your body is tender or sore, you can guide your partner’s touches to create the most pleasure and avoid discomfort.

Boost your confidence. Remind yourself about your good qualities. If you lose your hair, help yourself to look and feel better by shaving your head with an electric razor. Or try out different kinds of hats to find one you feel comfortable wearing. Eating right and exercising can help keep your body strong and your spirits up. Talk to your doctor or cancer care team about the type of exercise you are planning before you start, or ask to be referred to a physical therapist. Find something that helps you relax – movies, hobbies, or getting outdoors. Get professional help if you think you are depressed or struggling, or if anxiety is causing problems.


Last Medical Review: 08/19/2013
Last Revised: 08/19/2013