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Dating, Sexuality & Intimacy

As a young adult you may be dating, in a relationship, or married. Cancer can make navigating romantic relationships complicated.


Dating can be intimidating no matter your situation. Remember, every date before your diagnosis probably did not go perfectly. You may have bad dates after your diagnosis as well. You may also meet incredible, new people.

If you feel well enough during treatment, you never have to stop dating. Due to side effects of treatment, you may not feel up for it. You may want to take time for yourself to heal. It is your choice. Do not feel pressured to date if you are not interested or not feeling up to it. However, do not let cancer stop you from dating if you feel like you are ready to meet new people.

Telling a Date about your Diagnosis
When and how you tell someone about your cancer diagnosis is your choice. Some people prefer to tell right away to clear the air and to see if the person will be supportive or not. Some people prefer to wait until they trust the person. Take some time to think about which is most comfortable for you.

If your date reacts negatively, it is not your fault. People have different histories with cancer. In some cases, you may be able teach this person what it means to be a person with a cancer diagnosis. In others, you may have to move on.

Existing Relationships
If you are already in an established relationship, even a new one, your diagnosis may reveal positive and negative aspects of your relationship and your partner. Cancer can be difficult on everyone affected by the diagnosis.

People react to cancer differently. Your partner may be supportive and end up being your best caregiver. Your partner may have a difficult time coping. Either way, your relationship will probably change. If you hit a rough patch, it may be beneficial for you and your partner to do couples counseling. Look to your healthcare team, support group, or place of worship for resources and recommendations.

Cancer treatment often brings up fertility issues that will require you to discuss future plans about parenthood. If you think this person may be your life partner, you may want to make these decisions together.

Cancer treatment and surgery can affect sexual function in both males and females. You may need to both prepare for changes to your intimate relationship.

Sexuality & Intimacy

Cancer treatment may affect your sexuality and the way you feel about your body. Potential sexual side effects of cancer treatment include:

  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Lack of desire
  • Difficulty reaching climax.

You may be self-conscious about physical changes to your body such as hair loss, weight changes, swelling, scars or the presence of a central line or port.

Fatigue, nausea, pain or other side effects may interfere with your desire for sex.

Your doctor may even advise that you abstain from sex if your white blood cell or platelet counts are low.

Here are some of the most important things to keep in mind:

  • Ask your doctor if it is safe for you to have sex.
  • Speak to your healthcare team about sexual changes. There are treatments and therapies available to improve sexual side effects.
  • Ask for a referral to a sex therapist.
  • Be open with your partner about any changes, especially if something hurts or is uncomfortable.
  • Always use protection to prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
    • For women, even if cancer treatment interrupted your menstrual cycle, you still may be able to conceive. During treatment, do not try to conceive. Pregnancy during cancer treatment can be dangerous for both mother and child.
    • Always use condoms to protect against STIs even if you use another form of birth control.

The decision to have sex or be intimate with someone is completely your decision. It may not be safe, comfortable, or enjoyable for you to have sex during cancer treatment. If this is the case, rethink intimacy and find new ways for you and your partner to be intimate such as writing love notes, massages or light touching, or simply spending time alone together.

For additional sexuality resources and educational downloads, including “Healthy Sexuality After Cancer,” visit the FeMani Wellness website.

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