How will cancer affect my sex life?

Sexual feelings and attitudes vary greatly among people, even when they’re not sick. Some people have little or no change in their sexual desire and energy level during cancer treatment. Others find that they have less interest in sex because of the physical and emotional demands of cancer and treatment.

If your sexual desire and energy levels change during treatment, keep in mind that this happens to a lot of people. It can be caused by stress, feeling tired, and other treatment side effects. How you feel about your body may also play a part.

If you enjoyed a healthy sex life before starting treatment, chances are you’ll still find pleasure in physical intimacy during your treatment. You may find that intimacy takes on a new meaning and you relate to your partner differently. Hugging, touching, holding, and cuddling may become more important, while sex may become less important.

A healthy sex life can be hard to maintain when there are so many physical and emotional factors involved. Get as much information from your doctor and other reliable sources as you can so that you understand what you can and can’t do before, during, and after treatment. Talk with your partner about their concerns and what you feel OK with – which can change from week to week. For more information, see Sexuality for the Man With Cancer or Sexuality for the Woman With Cancer.


Even though pregnancy is sometimes possible during cancer treatment, it’s not wise – some treatments can cause birth defects. Doctors often tell men and women to use birth control throughout treatment, and even for a few weeks or months after treatment is done.

Women may find that their periods become irregular or stop while getting treatment. This doesn’t mean that they can’t get pregnant, so birth control is still needed.

In men, the treatments may reduce or damage sperm cells. Even so, men often become fertile again after treatment is done.

Whether or not you plan to have children, it’s normal to worry about how treatment will affect your fertility. Talk to your doctor before treatment starts about any questions or concerns you have about fertility and cancer treatment. This will help you make the treatment decisions that are best for you.

You can also learn more about how different cancer treatments can affect fertility and what your options are if you want to have children later. See Fertility and Men With Cancer or Fertility and Women With Cancer.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: February 20, 2015 Last Revised: February 20, 2015

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