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Sexual Problems

Men and women who are experiencing the effects of cancer and its treatments may have problems with intimacy and sexuality.

Sexual Problems - Patient Handout

Cancer treatments can cause physical symptoms and side effects that can alter your comfort, interest, desire and ability to be intimate or engage in sexual activity.

 Side effects from treatment may include nausea, changes in bowel function, sleep, fatigue, and nerve damage.  These things can affect your sexual desire, genital arousal ( vaginal lubrication and erection), or your ability or interest to reach orgasm. Many of these side effects are temporary. In some cases, however, they may become permanent.  

Some treatments can affect hormones and cause changes to sexual function, such as erectile function and vaginal dryness, due to the effect of chemotherapy and hormone therapy on the reproductive organs. Hormonal changes can affect your fertility as well.  

Body Image

Cancer treatments may also result in changes in your body’s appearance such as loss of hair, skin changes, alterations in your  weight or scars from surgery. Sometimes these changes can affect what you think and how you feel about your body.  Your body image is very important and can affect your desire for intimacy.

Emotions 

Emotional distress, anxiety and depression, and the medications used to treat these conditions,  can also affect sexuality and the desire for intimacy.  Emotions not only impact you psychologically, but can also affect your sexual response. Emotions can also affect your relationship with your partner. For example if you are worried about your future, finances or participating in family life, you may experience a decrease in the desire for intimacy.  

This may be a sensitive topic for you. Your health care team recognizes that sexuality and intimacy is important to overall wellbeing. We encourage you to bring up your sexual concerns early on to your physician or nurse, even if they don’tstart the conversation.  They can provide you with information or suggestions on how to best address your particular concerns.  

You may also call the Patient and Family Counseling Services at your nearest Cancer Centre.  A counsellor can help you with the emotional, relational and practical aspects related to sexuality and intimacy.  Support programs are also available to assist you through this time. 

For more specific information on how various types of cancer and their treatments can impact both men and women, please refer to the links below.

As much as you can, eat well and exercise.

If you feel depressed, talk to your health care team, a counsellor or group for support.

Ask your health care team if any of your medications have side-effects that impact sexual desire.

Do something or wear something that helps you feel attractive. A massage, bubble bath, sexy lingerie or candlelit room can help put you in the mood.

Use your imagination to focus on a sexual memory or fantasy so you are not distracted by worries.

Talk to your health care team about medical treatments that can help. Men can be referred to a urologist to explore solutions for erection problems. Women can be referred to a gynecologist to explore ways to manage discomfort or pain.

Revised Dec 2015

SOURCE: Sexual Problems ( )
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