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Chemotherapy can, but does not always, affect sexual organs and functioning. The possible side effects depend on the drugs used, age, and general health.

You and your partner should talk about sexual concerns with each other, your doctor or nurse, or a counselor who can give you the information and the reassurance you need.

The effects of chemo on sexuality is different for men and women.

Keep in mind that intercourse is not necessary for sexual intimacy.

For additional information, see the other sections of this article..

NOTE: Chemo may cause infertility in both men and women. If this is an issue for you, discuss it with your doctor BEFORE undergoing chemotherapy.

You and Your Partner

Some people feel closer than ever to their partners and have an increased desire for sexual activity during treatment. Others experience little or no change in their sexual desire and energy level. Still other people find that their sexual interest declines because of the physical and emotional stresses of having cancer and getting chemo. These stresses may include:

  • Worries about changes in how you look.
  • Anxiety about health, family, or finances.
  • Side effects, including fatigue and hormonal changes.

A partner's concerns or fears also can affect the sexual relationship. Some may worry that physical intimacy will harm the person who has cancer. Others may fear that they might "catch" the cancer or be affected by the drugs.

You and your partner can clear up many of these misunderstandings by talking about sexual concerns with your doctor, nurse, or a counselor who can give you the information and the reassurance you need.

You and your partner also should try to share your feelings with one another. If it's hard for you to talk to each other about sex or cancer, or both, you may want to talk to a counselor who can help you communicate more openly.

If you were comfortable with and enjoyed sexual relations before starting treatment, chances are you will still find pleasure in physical intimacy during treatment. But you may find that intimacy takes on new meaning. Hugging, touching, holding, and cuddling may become more important, while sexual intercourse may become less important.

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Sexual Issues


Chemo may lower the number of sperm cells, reduce sperm cells' ability to move, or cause other changes. These changes can result in short- or long-term infertility. Infertility affects a man's ability to father a child, but does not affect his ability to have sex.

Because permanent sterility (infertility) may occur, it's important to discuss this issue with your doctor BEFORE you begin chemo. You might want to think about banking your sperm for future use.

Men who are getting chemo should use birth control with their partners during treatment because chemo may have harmful effects on chromosomes of sperm cells. Ask your doctor when you can stop using birth control for this reason.

Ed Note: Use of a condom during chemotherapy will prevent possible transmission of chemo to your partner.

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Chemo can damage the ovaries and reduce the amount of hormones they produce. As a result, a woman may have these side effects:

  • Your menstrual periods may become irregular or stop completely during treatment.
  • You may have menopause-like symptoms, such as hot flashes and itching, burning, or dryness of vaginal tissues. These tissue changes can make intercourse uncomfortable, but the symptoms often can be relieved by using a water-based vaginal lubricant.
  • You may be more likely to get vaginal infections. To help prevent infection, avoid oil-based lubricants such as petroleum jelly, always use a condom for sexual intercourse, wear cotton underwear and pantyhose with a ventilated cotton lining, and don't wear tight slacks or shorts. Your doctor also may prescribe a vaginal cream or suppository to reduce the chances of infection. If you do get an infection, it should be treated right away.
  • You may become Infertile (unable to become pregnant). Whether this happens and how long it lasts depends on many factors, including the type of drug, the doses given, and your age. It is important to discuss this possibility BEFORE you start treatment.

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