Sex and Intimacy: Don’t Stop the Music

There’s nothing sexy about chemotherapy. But there’s nothing wrong with continuing to have sex while receiving treatment, either. In fact, if you’re feeling up to it, it’s a great idea!

And no matter what, there are ways to enjoy affection during the chemotherapy period.

Though there will surely be days when you don’t feel sexy or interested in sex, there will also be days when you feel quite well—and will want to be intimate with your partner. Once you start chemo, you’ll quickly be able to predict when you’ll feel ill and when you’ll feel good. So plan “date nights” with your partner.

Women may worry about their appearance during this time. Hair loss and possible weight gain or loss can take their toll. Remember: You can wear your wig to bed! Also, it’s wise to talk through feelings about your new (and temporary) self-image with your partner. You’ll probably learn that these issues loom much larger in your mind than in your sweetheart’s mind!

If you aren’t well enough for sex, that’s okay. Just getting physically close to each other—cuddling, holding hands—are all part of sexual intimacy.

Some patients feel pretty well the day of chemo. Expect side effects, if they happen at all, 24 to 72 hours later. If you want to have sex the evening immediately after chemo, check with your oncologist to find out if oral sex is okay. Some drugs can appear in semen or vaginal secretions, and you wouldn’t want your partner getting a chemo dose—even if it’s a light one.

For some women, vaginal dryness can be an issue during this time. To prevent painful intercourse, stop by your pharmacy and get a vaginal lubricant, such as Astroglide or Replens. For some men, getting erections becomes more difficult. Remember that drugs such as Viagra and Cialis are there for you if you need them—and insurance will generally cover these medications if your oncologist goes to bat for you.

One warning: sex during periods of neutropenia (decreased white cell count) is generally not recommended. Check with your doctor whenever blood tests are done, to find out your white blood cell count.

Finally, sharing quality time—like discussing dreams for the future—can be one of the most intimate things you can do during the next few months. For most patients and their partners, intimacy is even more meaningful post-chemo because of the extraordinary experiences shared during treatment.

Lillie Shockney, RN, BS, MAS, is the administrative director of the Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Center. Ms. Shockney, a two-time breast cancer survivor, speaks to audiences across the country and has written books about breast cancer.


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