Intimacy vs. cancer: It's the 2,000-pound elephant in the bedroom. Does intimacy have to end when a partner is diagnosed with cancer? There is no question that feelings of sexual desire and intimacy may change when a loved one is undergoing cancer treatment and understandably so. But intimacy can survive cancer; in fact, it can improve.
In general, cancer treatments can cause loss of libido, nausea and fatigue, which leave little energy or desire for sexual relations, according experts at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Specifically:
For women: common side effects of chemotherapy and hormone therapy include vaginal dryness, an increased risk of developing yeast infections.
For men: chemotherapy and some cancer surgeries can cause impotence or erectile dysfunction. Also, chemo drugs may cause sterility in men.
The Good News
If you and your partner enjoyed a healthy, comfortable sex life prior to your illness, chances are excellent that you will be able to keep a high level of intimacy despite the changes brought about by cancer. Many people may even find that increased closeness and communication resulting from the experience of illness actually enhances their sexuality.
The American Cancer Society offers some tips to help you keep intimacy in your life during cancer treatments:
- First and foremost, keep the lines of communication open. Communication is a key factor in all relationships, regardless of illness. No couple gets through cancer and treatment without some anxiety. Don't withdraw from one another; discuss those fears openly.
- Do your homework. Research the impact cancer treatment may have on sexuality. Talk with your doctor, nurse, or any other member of your health-care team.
- Be open minded about how to feel sexual pleasure. Not all sex needs to end in orgasm. This is an opportunity to learn new ways to give and receive sexual pleasure.
- Many cancer treatments cause side effects that can change your appearance. Remind yourself about your good qualities.
- Finally, be positive and don't give up on each other. Take the time and effort needed to stay close during this life-altering chapter of your relationship.