Sex and Chemotherapy

By Lillie Shockney, RN, BS, MAS
Reviewed by Marc B. Garnick, MD; Lillie Shockney, RN, BS, MAS; and Theodore Tsangaris, MD

There is nothing sexy about chemo. But nothing is wrong with having sex while receiving treatment, either. In fact, if you’re feeling up to it, it can be a great idea!

Make time for bonding. While you may not always be “in the mood,” there will be days when you feel quite well—and will want to be intimate with your partner. In time, you’ll be able to figure out when you’re likely to feel ill and when you’ll feel good. Expect side effects, if they occur at all, 24 to 72 hours after a session.

Deal with appearance anxiety. Hair loss, weight gain and the aftermath of surgery can take their toll. Talk through your feelings with your partner. You’ll most likely learn that these issues loom much larger in your mind than in your partner’s.

Closeness counts. Don’t rule out cuddling or holding hands–they’re a big part of intimacy.

Take precautions. If you want to be intimate the evening after a session, ask your oncologist if oral sex is okay. Some drugs appear in semen or vaginal secretions, and you wouldn’t want your partner getting a chemo dose.

Combat side effects. Vaginal dryness can be an issue. To prevent painful intercourse, use a vaginal lubricant. For men, getting erections can be difficult. Drugs are an option—and insurance will generally cover them if your oncologist goes to bat for you.

One warning: Sex while you have low white blood cell counts is generally not recommended. Ask your doctor about your count and if sex is safe.

Finally, be sure to talk. Sharing dreams for the future is one of the most intimate things you can do.

Published March 2014

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