Cancer, Sex and Single Men

The single man and cancer

Getting through cancer treatment can be harder in some ways for a man who’s not in a long-term relationship. You may not have a friend or family member who can be there for you like a partner could be. You may also worry how a current or future partner will react when they learn you’ve have or had cancer.

Some of the scars left by cancer are clearly visible. Others can’t be seen by a casual onlooker. For instance, there’s no way to know that a man walking down the street has a colostomy or only one testicle. But these private scars can be just as painful, because the few people who do see them are often the ones whose acceptance matters most.

Perhaps the most private scar left by cancer is the damage done 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. Homosexual men who are not in committed relationships have the same worries.

Concerns about having children can also affect your new relationships. You might not be able to father children because of cancer treatment. Or maybe you can still have children but are afraid that you won’t live to see your child grow up.

When dating, people who have had cancer often avoid talking about it. At a time when closeness is so important, it can seem risky to draw a potential lover’s attention to this scary part of your life. During treatment, you may want to be brave and not complain. And afterward, you might want to forget that it ever happened.

Sometimes you can ignore it. But when a relationship becomes serious, silence is not the best plan. Before you and your partner decide to make a strong commitment, you should talk about the cancer. This is especially true if the length of your life or your fertility has been affected. Otherwise, cancer may become a secret that’s very hard to keep.

When to talk about cancer

It may be hard to decide when to tell a new or prospective lover about your cancer history. Still, it’s important to do this when a relationship starts to get serious.

How to bring it up

Try having “the cancer talk” when you and your partner are relaxed and in an intimate mood. Tell your partner you have something important you’d like to discuss. Then ask them a question that leaves room for many answers. This gives them a chance to take in the new information and respond. It also helps you see how they take the news.

You might want to start with something like this: “I really like where our relationship is going, and I need you to know that I have (or had) _____ cancer. How do you think that might affect our relationship?”

You can also share your own feelings: “I have (or had) ________ cancer. I guess I haven’t wanted to bring it up because I’ve been worried about how you’d react to it. It also scares me to think about it, but I need you to know about it. What are your thoughts or feelings about it?”

You may want to practice how you might tell a dating partner about your cancer history. What message do you want to give? Try some different ways of saying it, and ask a friend for feedback. Did you come across the way you wanted to? Ask your friend to take the role of a new partner, and have them give you different types of responses to your question.

If you have an ostomy, large scars, or a sexual problem, you may be worried about when to tell a new dating partner. There are no hard-and-fast rules. It’s often better to wait until you feel a sense of trust and friendship with your partner – a feeling that you’re liked as a total person – before sharing such personal information.

The possibility of rejection

The reality is that you may be rejected you because of your history of cancer or the changes it’s brought into your life. Even without cancer, people reject each other because of looks, beliefs, personality, or their own issues. But the sad truth is that some single people with cancer limit themselves by not even trying to date. Instead of focusing on their good points, they convince themselves that no partner would accept them now. You can avoid rejection by staying at home, but you’ll miss the chance to build a happy, healthy relationship.

Here are some tips to help you make decisions about talking about your cancer:

  • Tell a potential partner about scars, an ostomy, or sexual problems when you feel that the person already accepts you and likes you for who you are.
  • Discuss your cancer in depth when a new relationship starts to deepen, especially if you have life expectancy or fertility issues.
  • Prepare for the possibility of rejection: imagine being rejected by a new potential partner, and how you would respond. But don’t let fear of being rejected keep you from going after a relationship that might work.

When you feel some confidence in yourself and your ability to handle rejection, you are ready for the real world. Then, when you start to meet people or to date, think of it as part of a learning process – not something you must do well on your first try.

Improving your social life

Try working on areas of your social life, too. Single people can avoid feeling alone by building a network of close friends, casual friends, and family. Make the effort to call friends, plan visits, and share activities. Get involved in hobbies, special interest groups, or classes that will increase your social circle.

Some volunteer and support groups are geared for people who have faced cancer. You may also want to try some one-on-one or group counseling. You can form a more positive view of yourself when you get objective feedback about your strengths from others. Make a list of your good points as a mate. What do you like about your looks? What are your talents and skills? What can you give to your partner in a relationship? What makes you a good sex partner? Whenever you catch yourself using cancer as an excuse not to meet new people or date, remind yourself of these things.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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Last Medical Review: February 24, 2017 Last Revised: February 24, 2017

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