Learn more about how sexuality may evolve after your cancer diagnosis

You’re transitioning into survivorship after cancer treatment and once again your life has turned upside down. Follow-up appointments, medications, and dealing with lasting physical and mental side effects are just some of the things on your plate.

Cancer can have an effect on every aspect of your life – including your sexuality. You may not look or feel like your old self, and you wonder when life, including sexual relationships, will get back to normal.

Although sexuality is difficult to talk about, changes in sexual experience are common for cancer survivors. Survivors often find that their sexual desire has diminished. They may be experiencing uncomfortable physical changes, including vaginal dryness or difficulty getting an erection. They may also be self-conscious about their body, particularly after having lost a breast.

Sometimes, the partners of cancer survivors worry about resuming sexual activity because they do not want to cause pain to their partner.

Here are a few ways you can begin to regain your sexuality after cancer.

RELATED: Tips for Cancer Caregivers

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Sexuality After Cancer

You should always talk to your doctor first to learn if you are healthy enough to resume sex.

  • Ease yourself into regular, day-to-day activity, with an emphasis on rest and nutrition.
  • Talk with your partner about what you’re comfortable with and able to do. It’s important maintain a supportive relationship.
  • If needed/wanted, ask your doctor about using birth control to see what options are best for your situation. Seek information or referrals to professional counselors who have experience in sex problems following treatment.
  • Support groups, as well as sexual rehabilitation, can help you overcome physical and mental barriers related to cancer.

RELATED: Grief and Cancer: Ways to Cope with Loss

Tips to Help You Feel Comfortable Again

It might be intimidating getting back into sexual activity. Here are some tips to help you ease into it

  • Get comfortable.
  • Focus on the positive aspects of your appearance and your personality. Remember past positive experiences. Think about sexual positions that are comfortable. Conserve your energy beforehand.
  • Choose a time when you and your partner are relaxed and not distracted. Light a candle, play music, and pour a glass of wine (if you’re allowed by your doctor).
  • Help yourself and your partner get in the mood by using erotic materials. You can also try a water-soluble lubricant. Your doctor may also give you pain medication or muscle relaxers to make sexual activity more comfortable.

Communicate with Your Partner

With every relationship, communication is key. Talk to your partner about desires and what you are comfortable doing. If you aren’t ready, be honest with your partner. It’s OK if it takes you a bit of time to be interested in sex again.

If you have any unusual bleeding, fever, discharge, or pain during or after sex, call your doctor. Be patient with yourself and your partner as you navigate through this together.

The Center for Counseling and Cancer Support at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center helps patients and their partners. For more information and to schedule an appointment, call 412-623-5888.

About UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

When you are facing cancer, you need the best care possible. UPMC Hillman Cancer Center provides world-class cancer care, from diagnosis to treatment, to help you in your cancer battle. We are the only comprehensive cancer center in our region, as designated by the National Cancer Institute. We have more than 70 locations throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York, with more than 200 oncologists – making it easier for you to find world-class care close to home. Our internationally renowned research team is striving to find new advances in prevention, detection, and treatment. Most of all, we are here for you. Our patient-first approach aims to provide you and your loved ones the care and support you need. To find a provider near you, visit our website.