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Sex After Cancer Diagnosis

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Sexual function is a part of overall health that is sometimes neglected during cancer treatment. Two oncology nurses offer suggestions for sexual and reproductive health in their new book, “The Chemotherapy Survival Guide”. If you're concerned about maintaining your fertility, then you should be sure your doctor discusses options with you as soon as you're diagnosed. If you have a romantic partner, then you may want to discuss sexual function with your doctor and nurses throughout your treatment program.

Chemotherapy agents can be found in semen and vaginal secretions for several days after treatment, so condoms are recommended to protect the partner. This is something I would never have guessed. However, if I become one of the millions of Americans who receives chemotherapy someday, I think it's encouraging to realize I may feel healthy enough for sex within a few days.

If there's any doubt as to how soon after surgery, chemo, or radiation it's safe to have sex, don't hesitate to ask your doctor. The American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors and Therapists offers help in finding a professional to answer questions specific to your health condition. There are many options available to help men and women with physical limitations produced by the cancer, the treatment, or other factors. I'm sure you've heard of the “pink pill” by now, but its failure to win FDA approval should not discourage you from seeking treatment for sexual health issues.

Partners of cancer patients often have sexual health challenges as well. Many hesitate to initiate intimacy because they're afraid of causing physical damage to the patient, or of exacerbating the emotional distress of cancer, or of just getting rejected. Some are afraid of catching cancer. While sexual activity is associated with some types of cancer (see references), most cancers are not at all contagious. Ask your doctor about your diagnosis.

Emotional distress from cancer can make sexual activity more difficult, but sex can be excellent therapy for emotional distress. As soon as your doctor tells you it's safe, don't be afraid to draw your partner closer.


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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.