Sexual Health After An Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis
Last updated: January 2022
An ovarian cancer diagnosis can impact your life in significant ways, including sex and intimacy. More often, doctors and researchers are looking at sexual health as an important part of treatment for gynecologic cancer. Research shows women with the condition may have:1
- Changes to relationship satisfaction
- Sexual problems like changes to orgasm
- Body image issues
- Trouble communicating with doctors
- Feelings of guilt, loss, resentment, anxiety, and fear
How sex and intimacy change after an ovarian cancer diagnosis
These challenges often stem from treatments for ovarian cancer. Chemotherapy and hormone therapy cause estrogen levels to drop. This can trigger symptoms like hot flashes and changes to your period. Vaginal dryness and sores may also make sex painful.2
Surgery for ovarian cancer can bring on early menopause. It also leaves scars, which may alter how you feel about your body and affect intimacy. Plus, one side effect of prescription drugs like opioids is a lower sex drive.
Can I have sex after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer?
Despite these hurdles, you may still long for sex and intimacy. One study of women with ovarian cancer found that more than half had some desire.3
You will want to know if you can have sex after an ovarian cancer diagnosis. Talk to your doctor first. If they give the okay, keep in mind that sex will likely be different from before your diagnosis.
Sexual health tips
Sex after an ovarian cancer diagnosis means taking safety measures to protect yourself and your partner.
It is possible for chemotherapy medicines to filter into your bodily fluids like saliva and vaginal fluids. You could then pass them to your partner, although experts are unsure whether these medicines could hurt them.4
During cancer treatment, your body also has trouble warding off infection. Some cancer treatments lower your blood cell count. A weakened immune system makes you vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections (STIs).4
To be safe, use a barrier device like a condom or dental dam during cancer treatment and for one week after. Use them during oral, vaginal, and anal sex.4
Sexual health issues
There are ways to manage sexual health concerns and have sex that is comfortable and fulfilling:2
- Vaginal lubricants and estrogen creams treat dryness for less painful sex.
- Dilators help avoid or reverse scarring for women who have had radiation therapy.
- Pelvic muscle exercises ease pain, boost blood flow, and improve bladder and bowel function.
Staying connected with your partner
Communicate with your partner about changes to your sex life and how you can stay connected. If intercourse is not possible, try more intimate touch like hugging, cuddling, and holding hands. Focus on intimacy when you are relaxed and have energy.5
Questions to ask your doctor
As you navigate your cancer journey, you could have questions about how cancer treatment could impact sex and intimacy. Here is a list of questions to ask your doctor:2,4
- Can I have sex while going through cancer treatment?
- Could my treatment cause sexual problems?
- What problems could I experience?
- Will these issues only last during treatment, or longer?
- How can I avoid sexual problems or cope with them if they do happen?
- How can I keep my partner safe during cancer treatment?
- Do I need to use birth control during treatment?
- Will I be able to get pregnant after treatment?
- Should I see a sexual health expert?
- Can you suggest a support group?
Sexual health is a sensitive topic, and your cancer care team will not always ask about it during appointments. Plus, many women express that they are more focused on survival than sexuality. But if sex and intimacy are important to you – like they are for many women – start the conversation with your doctor.
Do you have things that helped you cope through your ovarian cancer journey?