Q. I'm starting chemotherapy soon. Should I avoid having sex?

A.

There are ways to continue to be sexually active while in treatment. Often cancer-related fatigue, changes in your blood chemistry, and/or changes in your hormones can be obstacles. Please be patient with yourself if these treatment side effects prevent you from having sex while receiving treatment. Here are some recommendations for both men and women in treatment who want to retain physical intimacy in their relationships:

  • Ask your doctor or nurse when it is safe for you to be sexually active. This requires that your blood chemistry be at values that ensure you have enough red, white, and platelet blood cells.
  • Always use a barrier when having sex. This most often is a condom but can also be a dental dam that covers the vaginal wall. Barriers also protect both genders from any source of infection and women from pregnancy.
  • Talk with your partner about your desire to continue having sex, and ask for his or her help to find ways to remain physically intimate.
  • Consider couple’s counseling to help you both learn to cope together.
  • Consider different types of sexual expression other than those that requires penetration. Sensual massage that focuses on the whole body as well as the genitals is a safe alternative.
  • If you are a woman having trouble lubricating, ask your oncologist or gynecologist to suggest different lubricants and moisturizers that do not contain any of the forms of estrogen.
  • If you are a man having trouble with erections, ask your oncologist or urologist to prescribe an appropriate erectile dysfunction medication.
  • Remain appropriately physically active — being physically intimate requires energy. In addition, activity can help you manage fatigue. Ask you doctor what kinds of exercise is best for you.
  • Speak with a CancerCare social worker to find information and availability of support groups or couples and/or individual counseling.