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Cancer in the Bedroom

Inspire Health Event Calendar March 16, 2012

At InspireHealth, we view sexuality as an important part of health, our relationship with our body and our relationship with others. We are grateful to one of our partners – the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) – for sharing their thoughts on this topic with you, our InspireHealth community in the article below.

Here at InspireHealth, we believe that there are many ways other than sexual intercourse for us to feel connected with our body, our partner and our pleasure. Developing an intimate and loving relationship with ourselves is fundamental and can open the door to deeper connection and intimacy with others.

Sensuality is an important and meaningful part of our human experience and is available to everyone. We encourage patients to explore the many ways in which sensuality enhances our lives. To become more sensual, be aware of, involved in and appreciative of sensory experiences through our eyes (watching a beautiful sunset), ears (listening to a moving piece of music), touch (petting a dog or cat, giving or receiving a massage), smell (a favourite meal cooking on the stove) and taste (savouring a favourite dish).  Be “sensational”!

Read on to discover ways of dealing with sexual challenges during and after cancer treatment. At the end of this article you will find a list of further CCS resources on this topic. For members of InspireHealth, please talk to your physician about the InspireHealth resources that would be best for you.

Sexual Challenges During and After Cancer Treatment 

 Canadian Cancer Society’s Cancer Information Service 

Cancer and its treatment can affect all aspects of a person’s life, and sexuality is no exception.  Sexuality – including sex drive, sexual function, and sexual feelings – is closely linked to how well you feel overall.  It’s hard to feel sexy if you’re overwhelmed, tired, nauseous, worried, or generally coming to terms with having cancer.  Since sexuality can satisfy many important needs for closeness and pleasure, it may be worthwhile to equip yourself with information and resources to help get your sexual drive back! Read on to find out how the Canadian Cancer Society’s Cancer Information Service can help.

Research has shown that many cancer patients experience challenges related to sex.  For instance, women treated for breast cancer have reported discomfort with their bodies after surgery and decreased interest in sex while taking hormonal treatments. And for men treated for prostate cancer, erectile dysfunction (ED) can be a frustrating reality.  Both men and women can be impacted by fear and anxiety associated with some of the physical, emotional and hormonal changes to their body and can feel uncertain about how to communicate their concerns and/or their desires to their partner. A number of other feelings may arise such as sadness and a natural sense of grief and loss.

Let’s take a moment to consider the big picture. People with cancer aren’t the only ones facing sexual challenges – many perfectly healthy men and women experience difficulties in the bedroom.  In a study of young breast cancer patients, 50% of women reported problems with body image; 48% had difficulty becoming sexually aroused; and 40% felt unable to relax and enjoy sex [1]. However, the authors pointed out that rates of these same problems among healthy women were 47%, 31%, and 28% – still pretty high! The same goes for erectile dysfunction, which impacts nearly 50% of Canadian men between 40- and 88-years-old [2]. So if you’re feeling alone with sexual problems, rest assured – you’re not the only one.

When you call the Canadian Cancer Society’s Cancer Information Service with concerns about sexuality, we draw from a wide range of trustworthy resources to answer your questions.  First, we turn to our Canadian Cancer Encyclopedia, a comprehensive source of knowledge on all things cancer-related. Cancer can affect one or more phases of the sexual response (desire, excitement, orgasm, and resolution).  We can discuss some of the most commonly reported sexual concerns for people with cancer – such as feeling anxious about having sex for the first time after cancer treatment, or experiencing pain during sex because of dryness, nerve damage, or scar tissue. We may also debunk some myths about sex and cancer – like the fear that having sex can cause cancer to grow or spread (not true) or that your partner could “catch” cancer from you (also not true – although HPV, a virus that can be transmitted during sex, increases the risk of certain types of cancer).

Another helpful resource is the CCS booklet “Sexuality and Cancer,” which includes tips for managing different sexual problems and changes.  It also answers some common questions, such as “How soon can I have sex after treatment?,” “Are there times when intercourse should be avoided?,” and “How long after chemotherapy can we stop using a condom?”  You can find these answers and more in the online version of this booklet at or we can mail you a copy free-of-charge.

We can also tell you about different services available in your community. For example, you may wish to access:.

  • CancerConnection, a free and confidential service that connects you over the phone with a volunteer who has experienced a similar diagnosis in the past (you can request to speak to a volunteer who is open to talking about the sexual challenges of cancer treatment);
  •, an online community where you can share experiences and develop supportive relationships with others who have been there;
  • The BC Cancer Agency Library, which can recommend books and DVDs about intimacy and sexuality (if you can’t stop by to pick them up, the Library has a mail-out service);
  • In-person support groups, specific to different types of cancer or groups of people (e.g. young adults, lesbian and bisexual women, or people who identify with different cultural groups); and,
  • CoupleLinks, a professionally facilitated online workshop for couples affected by breast cancer.

Cancer doesn’t have to mean the end of your sexual life. However there may be new challenges for you including feeling uncomfortable asking for resources or information about sexuality.  If so, please call us. The Cancer Information Service is confidential, non-judgemental, and free-of-charge, and we have plenty of time for your questions.  We look forward to hearing from you at 1-888-939-3333.

‘Facing cancer: The Canadian Cancer Society can help you get informed, feel supported and be empowered’.

[1] Fobair P, Stewart SL, Chang S, D’Onofrio C, Banks PJ, Bloom JR. Body image and sexual problems in young women with breast cancer. Psychooncology. 2006;15(7):579-94.

[2] Grover SA, Lowensteyn I, Kaouache M, Marchand S, Coupal L, DeCarolis E, Zoccoli J, Defoy I. The prevalence of erectile dysfunction in the primary care setting: importance of risk factors for diabetes and vascular disease. Arch Intern Med. 2006;166(2):213-9.