Finding Intimacy Despite Physical Limitations After Cancer

Published on: 10/14/15

Some cancer treatments cause fatigue, weight gain, a lack of sexual desire, or trigger sudden-onset menopause. Some treatments remove breasts, or leave you with an inability to get an erection, or attach an ostomy bag to your body.  However, it is possible to rediscover intimacy despite physical limitations.

Who wants to have passionate sex after types of major physical and emotional changes?

Cancer survivors are left to figure this out every day. Cancer invades more than the physical body. It causes chaos in a patient’s life, and tests relationships in many ways. The cancer journey can be a bonding experience for some couples, but it can also add to existing problems and tear couples apart.

So if your cancer treatment caused physical side effects that make sex challenging, put aside hopes of spontaneity or an urgent desire to jump into bed together. Instead, follow these three steps to a successful sexual and intimate encounter.

1. Prepare yourself. Some people have prescription medication they take ahead of having intercourse. Give yourself plenty of time for that medication to kick in. If stretching exercises with a dilator tool are necessary for comfortable intercourse, plan an extra ten minutes to do those before you start. If relaxation helps get you in the mood, than take a long bath. If you don’t want to get undressed in front of your partner yet, put on lingerie ahead of him seeing you. Lingerie can make you feel sexy and can also hide any scars you’re not quite used to yet. For those folks with an ostomy bag, empty it right before the sexual encounter. Wash with soap and water, and cover it with a specially made bag that hides the contents and stays in place during sex.

2. Prepare the room. Set the mood. We become aroused through our senses, so consider what the room looks like. Turn on music you both like or is relaxing, dim the lights or light candles, and definitely remove all pill bottles from the bedside table and any other signs of cancer. Finger food is fun and playful, oil for massaging is a must. You may also want to add a vibrator or any other sexual toys you’ve enjoyed as a couple. Remove distractions by turning off phones.

3. Reset expectations. The goal isn’t fireworks. The goal is to connect with each other in spite of the challenging side effects. Many patients report a change in ability to get aroused, stay aroused, and orgasm. Cancer has changed us physically, and emotionally. Erogenous areas of the body may have changed. You may need to be touched differently. Go slow, be gentle. If your partner is up for it, this is a good time to explore and discover what feels good to you again.

Are physical side effects limiting your sex life? Are you concerned your partner isn’t attracted to you any longer?

Follow these steps and try it again. The goal is to connect with each other in some intimate way, and then build on that. Relationships enhance the quality of our life, and regardless of your physical limitation, there is an ability to enjoy each other in an intimate way.

If you have questions on this topic or are concerned it won’t work for you, you are not alone.  Your questions and comments are welcome below and you can reach  me by email at

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