There’s a lot to think about when undergoing cancer treatment — appointments, medications, self-care — so sex and intimacy might not be a priority.
But a fulfilling physical and emotional connection with your partner during treatment can often aid in recovery, says Diane C. Robinson, PhD, a neuropsychologist with Orlando Health Cancer Institute.
“Emotional intimacy and physical touch have been shown to have healing effects, and feelings of love and support can be immensely important during illness,” she says.
One thing to keep in mind is that sex during treatment may not look or feel the same as before, and that’s OK.
“With honest and open communication, you can maintain a connection to your partner even during this difficult time,” Robinson says.
There aren’t many types of cancer that preclude sexual activity, but there are a few for which your doctor may advise you to exercise caution.
For instance, patients undergoing bone marrow treatment have extremely compromised immune systems. This doesn’t mean you can’t have sex. But you may experience it differently, taking extra precautions against infection.
For those with prostate cancer, penetrative sex may not be possible, as erectile dysfunction can often accompany treatment. So you might have to change things up.
Cancer treatment also can lead to early menopause in some women. Suppressed estrogen causes a drop in libido, thinning of the vaginal tissue and less lubrication.
Maybe you don’t want to have sex at all or you’re not feeling ready for the way you used to have sex. Instead of dwelling on the changes in your body, try to see this as an opportunity to explore and find joy in new kinds of intimacy with your partner.