Sex and cancer

Problems from cancer or its treatment can include lowered sexual desire, physical discomfort or a change in sexual functioning, body image issues, or extreme fatigue.

Changes in the way you enjoy and carry out lovemaking may be needed.

What is sexuality?

Sexuality means different things to different people. It’s about who you are, how you see yourself, and how you connect with others. It is much more than sexual intercourse.

Cancer does not mean that you are no longer a sexual person or your sexuality will be destroyed. You can learn to feel good about yourself sexually despite the presence of cancer and the possible side effects brought about by the treatments.

How will cancer affect my sex life?

It is difficult to predict accurately how cancer and its treatment will affect you, but for most people there are changes which require them to adapt and develop new ways of giving and receiving sexual pleasure.

There are four main ways that cancer or its treatment can affect your sexuality. It can affect your:

  • physical ability to give and receive sexual pleasure
  • thoughts and body image (how you see yourself)
  • feelings, such as fear, sadness, anger, and joy
  • roles and relationships.

The links between these four areas are important. If there is a problem in one of them, it may have an impact on another. When someone becomes ill, it can affect their ability to feel good about themselves sexually, or their physical ability to give and receive sexual pleasure.

If this has happened to you or your partner, then it might be helpful to understand that some changes will only be temporary. Even if they are long-lasting, or permanent, you can learn to change or modify previous techniques that are no longer possible.


Emotions and cancer English/Māori Cancer Society, NZ, 2020
How we can help Cancer Society, NZ
More cancer support groups

Learn more

Information sheet on cancer and sexuality 
Cancer Society, NZ
How cancer can affect your sexuality and sex life Cancer Research UK

Credits: Original material provided by the Cancer Society of New Zealand, 2007. Reviewed byeverybody, July 2010. Last reviewed: 19 Jan 2015