Chemotherapy and sex: Is sexual activity OK during treatment?

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Chemotherapy and sex: Is sexual activity OK during treatment?


I'm wondering about chemotherapy and sex. Is it safe for me to have sex with my husband while I'm undergoing chemotherapy?



It's best to discuss any concerns about chemotherapy and sex with your doctor, who's familiar with your individual situation. In general, however, it's usually OK to have sex while undergoing chemotherapy — as long as you're feeling up to it.

Many factors can influence decisions about chemotherapy and sex. Here are some things to consider:

  • What type of cancer do you have? Cancers involving the genital tract may require special caution when it comes to sex. After a procedure or therapy that affects the genital tract, your doctor may recommend abstaining from sexual activity until healing is complete.
  • What type of chemotherapy are you receiving? Some types of chemotherapy can lead to changes in the lining of the vagina, which may make vaginal injuries more likely during intercourse. Other types of chemotherapy — such as high-dose chemotherapy after a bone marrow or stem cell transplant — may weaken your immune system to the point that sex isn't a good idea. During intercourse, normal bacteria that live on the skin or in the genital tract may be introduced into your bloodstream. If your immune system is weak, your body may not be protected from these bacteria. Chemotherapy may also increase your risk of bleeding by lowering your platelets, which help with blood clotting. If your platelet count is low, intercourse could cause bleeding. If your platelet count is extremely low, severe bleeding could occur.
  • Could you become pregnant? Pregnancy is discouraged during chemotherapy, due to the potential effects on the developing baby. If conception is possible, your doctor will likely encourage you to choose a reliable method of birth control.
  • Is your partner prepared for a possible allergic reaction? Theoretically, it may be possible for your partner to develop an allergic reaction to the chemotherapy you've received — although this would be very rare.
  • Are you feeling up to it? During chemotherapy, fatigue or other side effects may decrease your interest in sex. If you're not interested in intercourse, remember that there's more to an intimate relationship than sex. Look for other ways to express affection, such as kissing, cuddling or other shared activities.
Last Updated: 2010-10-09
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