There are many reasons why sexual intimacy between partners is impacted by cancer. Loss of libido is very common for people going through cancer treatment and can be due to a number of factors. Fatigue, side effects of treatment, low self-esteem and depression are just some of the reasons why this aspect of your relationship may take a hit.
According to Cancer Research UK, cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy can be physically and emotionally draining, leaving patients to deal with side effects such as pain, nausea, fatigue, changing body shape, and loss of hair — all of which are enough to lower libido on their own, but put together can seriously affect desire. For men, certain types of chemotherapy can also cause impotence.
Often the partner of the person going through cancer is the one reluctant to initiate intimacy. They may be concerned about hurting their partner if they are recovering from surgery or undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy. They may assume that their partner doesn’t want to have sex because they’re not feeling well or simply because they have cancer.
Being open and honest with each other is the best approach to dealing with problems surrounding sex and intimacy. If sex is painful or problematic, experiment with different positions, use extra lubrication, or even trying different times of the day when fatigue or nausea may be less of a problem. Patience and understanding are key to working through any issues.
Being intimate with your partner doesn’t necessarily mean having sex, there are lots of ways that you can enjoy each other’s touch without having intercourse. Massages, cuddling, and kissing are all ways that you can show your love and support.
If you feel that cancer is having a profound effect on your sexual desire and relationship, you may wish to speak to someone on your healthcare team or a psychosexual counselor who can offer practical advice on how to manage this area of your relationship.
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