Cancer and Sexuality

Written by Evolve Holistic's Gabriela Arredondo, BA, Sex Educator, (Cert.) OACCPP

Cancer is a well-known disease in this day and age. The prevalence of this disease is high. According to the Canadian Cancer Society (2017), about 1 in 2 Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetimes and, 1 in 4 will die of the disease. Another important fact is that 60% of Canadians diagnosed with cancer will survive at least 5 years after their diagnosis. Depending on the type of cancer, the survival rate is different, however the survival rates are higher compared to previous years.

Without a doubt, the most important thing during the battle against cancer, is to keep the person alive and with the best quality of life possible, especially with the high levels of survivorship. Health encompasses more than the physical aspect of a human being. Another element of human health is sexual function and in many cases it’s poorly addressed in cancer survivors.

Many types of cancer and treatments can directly affect the sexual functioning of the person. For instance, acquired erectile dysfunction after prostate cancer or dyspareunia (painful intercourse) after gynaecological cancers and treatments (Lindberg, 2014). Some other cancer-related factors that may negatively influence sexuality are fatigue, anxiety, pain, fear or, shortness of breath to mention some.


Be grateful with yourself. Acknowledge that you or your beloved one is a survivor and your body is going through a lot. You are amazing and you are doing great.

Rediscover yourself. Something changed, not only inside of your body but your emotions and meaning of life as well. Embrace the process leaving judgments aside. Tune into the grieving process and allow yourself to feel anger or grief, then release (Watson, L., 2016). Body image is one of the most affected areas in Cancer survivors. Acceptance is a journey and takes time to process everything and all the changes that comes with it.  

Cancer impacts the survivor and the family system. If the person is in a relationship, chances are that roles may have changed during the process of treatment. Retraction is a natural response however, whenever you feel ready, try as much as possible to communicate more frequently to better help ease the process.

Listen to your body. Get in touch with your body, it may be in pain, low desire, depression and retraction may be present. Rest, be alone when you need it, ask for company if you need it. As mentioned before, give yourself the chance to feel your emotions. When you are ready to get in contact with your partner, do so. Expand the meaning of sex, pleasure and intimacy where intercourse is not necessarily the main event. Explore your body and your partner´s like you are discovering new territory. Caress, kiss, hug, massage each other, be playful, introduce gadgets, and be creative.

It is a common thought that sex and sexuality revolve only around the genitals. When a change in the body this impactful happens it is important to create different meanings for connectedness, intimacy and physical sensations

Talk to your physician. Talk to your physician about your concerns related to sexuality, the side effects of the medications and your options to enhance sexual functioning. In some cases the decrease in sexual desire has more to do with self-image than the body functioning itself (Jackson S., Wardle J., Steptoe A., Fisher A., 2016).

Awaken your erotic energy. Cancer can bring a whole turmoil of emotions, sensations, desperations and so much more. Starting with the most obvious emotion, fear of death. Getting in touch with erotic energy means getting in touch with creativity, novelty and energy in order to renew your life source. (Perel, 2017).

When you are ready to be sexual. Plan your sex encounter! Create new ways to get aroused, while planning your session. Get lube, sex gadgets, clothing, a shower, change or add whatever you have to in order to feel comfortable. It is a great way to avoid any inconveniences that may arise. If children are a part of the family system, hire a babysitter so you can fully embrace your sexperience!