Sexuality for the Woman With Cancer

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Sexual activity with your partner

When you feel ready to try sexual touching with your partner, start with plenty of time and privacy. Plan for a time when you aren’t too tired and when any pain is well-controlled. You may want to create a relaxed environment. For example, you could light the room with candles or put on some soft, romantic music. Although you may feel a little shy, let your partner know that you would like to have some time to be physically close.

You could even make a date for this purpose. You might say, “I feel ready for sex again, but I’d like to take things slowly. Would you be in the mood tonight to try a little touching? I can’t promise that it will go perfectly, but we can have fun trying.”

It’s a good idea for couples to put some limits on their touching the first few times they try sexual activity after cancer treatment. A good way to start is with a special session devoted to all-over body touching. This is the way body touching works:

  • Each partner takes a turn touching and being touched. One partner lies face down on the bed, allowing the other partner to touch the entire back, from toes to scalp. After about 15 minutes, the partner lying down turns over so the front of the body can be touched.
  • The first time you try a touching session, avoid the breasts and genitals. Your goals are to feel relaxed and to experience sensual pleasure. It’s not important to get sexually excited. If you agree on these goals prior to starting, the touching should not be frustrating. This type of session takes the nervousness and pressure out of being close again.
  • While being touched, your job is to be self-centered and tuned in to your own feelings. Don’t worry about your partner’s thoughts or feelings. When you are doing the touching, enjoy the shape and texture of your partner’s body. Try many different types of touching, varying from light stroking to a firmer touch, much like a massage.
  • If you both feel relaxed during the first touching session, you can add some genital touching the next time. Over a few sessions, partners can slowly spend more time on genital caresses, until each one is able to reach an orgasm through stroking with a hand, or oral sex, if that’s comfortable for both of you.

Many couples don’t talk much about sex. But after cancer treatment, your sexual routine may need to change. This calls for clear communication. This is not the time to let embarrassment silence you. Be sure to let your partner know, either in words or by guiding with your hand, the kinds of touches you like best. Try to express your desires in a positive way. For example, “You have the right place, but I’d like you to use a light touch,” rather than, “Ouch! That’s too rough!” Save vaginal penetration until both partners really feel ready for it.

Making sex more comfortable

If you still have some pain or feel weak from cancer treatment, you might want to try new lovemaking positions. Many couples have found one favorite position, particularly for vaginal penetration, and rarely try another. The best-known way to have intercourse (or vaginal penetration) is in the “missionary position,” with the partner lying on top of the woman. But after cancer treatment, other ways might be more comfortable. You may be able to enjoy intercourse more if both of you lie side by side, either facing each other or with your back next to your partner’s front side. Another position that may work well is for you to sit or kneel astride your partner. This allows you to move more freely while your partner relaxes or touches you.

The illustrations below are some ideas for positions that may help in resuming intercourse.

There is no magic position that’s right for everyone. You and your partner need to find the one that’s best for you. Small and large pillows can help as supports. Keeping a sense of humor can always lighten up the mood.


Last Medical Review: 08/29/2013
Last Revised: 08/29/2013