| Tara Langdale
How Soon After Chemotherapy Can You Have Sex?
How soon can I have sex after chemotherapy? This tends to be an important question for women going through chemo, if they are in a romantic relationship. Given that there are many ways chemo can affect your sex life, the prospect can feel worrying. Cancer affects women of all ages, the types of cancer vary a lot, and we all have unique constitutions and lifestyles that can affect our healing rate. For these reasons there is no guarantee that it will be totally safe to have sex while having chemo, but the likelihood is that you can.
In short, some women find that their sex life is unaffected by chemo, while others find that it is, but returns to normal afterwards. To help you decide how soon after chemo to have sex, we have answered the most common questions about sex and chemo in this article…
Can I have sex during chemo?
Let’s get straight to the point and address the burning question: can you have sex with cancer treatment?
Rest assured that there is no medical reason to stop having sex during chemotherapy. For many, it is ok to have sex during cancer treatment, but there are some precautionary measures you may want to take, which we’ll address a little later in this article. Whether you choose to have sex while on chemotherapy is likely to depend on whether you’re experiencing any sexual side effects of chemo.
The same applies to the type of cancer you are dealing with. For example, if you have cancer in pelvic areas, including the genitals, urinary tract or rectum, penetration may not be a good idea until it is fully healed. It would be wise to consult your Doctor on this.
Is it better to have sex after chemo?
Some women prefer to have sex after cancer treatment, and that is a perfectly understandable choice. Perhaps you don’t feel comfortable having intercourse while receiving treatment, or your Doctor has advised against it. Perhaps the chemo symptoms have made sex more difficult for you. Sex after chemotherapy might just be better because it doesn’t feel as risky, or because fewer symptoms mean more enjoyment.
It makes sense that higher doses of chemotherapy are more likely to affect your sex life than lower doses. Still, chemo doesn’t usually impact your sex life for a long time. Your enjoyment (and usual performance!) should return to normal soon afterward. Having said that, for some women chemo treatment leads to physical changes that can affect the sexual experience.
For example, it is possible that chemotherapy can induce ovarian failure and trigger the onset of atrophic vaginitis or vaginal stenosis, or exacerbate existing symptoms. If this does happen, know that there are lots of treatment options to restore your sexual enjoyment. Check out our article library for more information on these issues.
Is it safe to have sex during chemo?
As we mentioned above, it is usually safe to have sex during chemo, but there are some instances when it is not. For instance, it might be better to wait to have sex after chemo if you have any of the following:
- Low white blood cell count
- Low platelet count
- Thin or inflamed vaginal skin or tissues
- Any pain or discomfort during normal intercourse
Some types of chemo can cause low white blood cell or platelet counts, which can lead to a higher risk of infection. Since chemo compromises the immune system, you are more likely to develop infections or catch something from someone else, and your body may not have its usual ability to heal as quickly. It is worth asking your Doctor whether you might have low counts.
Does sex hurt after chemo? No, chemo doesn’t cause pain directly, but sometimes the physical issues caused by chemo or radiation (vaginal stenosis or atrophy) can lead to dyspareunia (painful sex). If this happens you should consult your Doctor about whether it is safe – or sensible – to have sex yet.
Likewise, tears in the skin or bleeding can leave you open to infection, so if your skin down there is likely to become irritated or damaged from sex, it may be better to wait.
How will chemo affect my sex life?
Your Doctor may confirm that it’s fine to have sex during or after your chemo treatment, but realistically, you may not feel like it. Does chemo affect sexual desire? Again, not directly, but it can have symptoms that deflate your desire. For instance:
- Tiredness or physical exhaustion
- Mood swings and irritability (due to stress and worry)
- Feeling sick
- Pain in the pelvic region
On top of this, it could be that other chemo symptoms affect your physical appearance, which in turn can make you feel self-conscious. This might make it harder to relax and enjoy sex. Such side effects may include:
- Hair loss
- Weight changes
- Changes in your skin condition
- Swelling (lymphedema)
- Surgical removal of body parts (such as breasts)
How long after chemo will it take for your sex drive to come back? This is difficult to answer; it really depends on the reason for it disappearing. If it’s a psychological reason, you may need to work on coming to terms with changes, or waiting for your physical appearance to return to normal.
Physical symptoms may need to subside before you are comfortable enough to want to have sex again. Sometimes you may just not feel up to it - and that is fine. It would help to communicate honestly with your partner over this, so that both of you understand each other throughout this period and there is no room for negative assumptions.
It might be that your partner isn’t in the mood as often either, for any number of reasons. In this case it would help to extend compassion to your partner too. They may feel stressed, or worried about the impact the chemo could be having… which isn’t much of a turn-on!
What can chemo do to your partner?
It is a possibility that chemo drugs could be passed to your partner during intimate moments, through bodily fluids. It hasn’t been categorically proven, but it may be a risk. Therefore it is a good idea to protect your partner if you do have sex while on chemo drugs.
To be on the safe side (by keeping bodily fluid exchange to a minimum), Doctors recommend using condoms during sexual activity, or a dental dam during oral sex, for between 48 and 72 hours after chemotherapy.
How does chemo affect pregnancy?
The National Cancer Institute published findings that indicate chemo can cause changes that might lead to birth defects in the first three months of pregnancy. Eggs and sperm could be affected, so it is important to use contraception if you do have sex during cancer treatment. Remember that if your treatment is for breast cancer, the birth control pill may not be suitable for you. Your Doctor will advise on this.
Similarly, you wouldn’t want to become pregnant while having chemotherapy because the treatment could damage the developing child.
The bottom line is this: how soon after chemo you should have sex is a very personal issue, for you only to decide on. However, provided you take the necessary precautions, in most instances it is safe – the real question is whether it is sensible or enjoyable! Listen to your body, don’t force yourself to do anything you don’t feel like doing, and be patient with yourself when you don’t. You will be able to have sex again soon enough, and it will have been worth the wait.
Discussing safe sexual practices during cancer treatment: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25095299/
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