Sexual Health & Cancer

Sexual Health & Cancer

Experiencing a chronic illness poses additional challenges to a pleasurable sexual life. Surgery, hormones, chemotherapy, radiation, and medications can affect your desire for sex, the way sexual behavior unfolds, and how pleasurable the experience is. Previously erogenous zones are replaced with burning sensations, numbness, or maybe missing entirely due to surgery.

In addition to the physical effects of cancer, many people also experience changes in mood, body image, and energy level. Cancer brings a host of intense emotions, complicated decisions, and additional demands. These changes can interrupt a satisfying sexual life and replace it with increased isolation.

Whether you are dating or in a long-term relationship, cancer affects your relationships with other people. Navigating your own grief and loss, physical pain, uncertainty, and reactions are complicated enough! Communicating these with a sexual partner can feel overwhelming. Sometimes people go from being a caregiver to being the one cared for. Maybe you were the initiator of sex and now feel self-conscious of sexual functioning, or have a hard time sharing the changes you need in physical pleasure.

Having a psychologist as part of your healthcare team can help! A psychologist offers an additional layer of personal support, insight, and guidance. Individuals and couples utilizing sex therapy during cancer treatment, and throughout recovery, arm themselves with information, communication skills, and creative problem-solving. Sex therapy considers the physical changes, the psychological stressors, and the relationship dynamics to attain the goals people have for their sexual lives.

Therapy begins with understanding the client’s viewpoint of any problems and any relevant personal history. Clients are encouraged to ask questions, talk about concerns, and discuss their goals for therapy. Therapist and client explore treatments or coping that has been utilized and then a plan for the therapy is collaboratively built. Therapy may include learning additional coping techniques, relationship communication skill building, cognitive or behavioral strategies to address specific areas of difficulty, creative new ways of experiencing pleasure, and referrals to specialized providers.

Reach out today if cancer is affecting your sex life!


“Men can deal with profound changes to their sexual function after cancer.”
– Sharon Bober, PhD