Understanding Changes in Libido

Libido can be described as the desire to engage in sexual activity. In general, sexual desire ebbs and flows. When faced with cancer, changes in sexual desire are quite common. Think of this as a process that takes time to understand, accept, and adapt to these changes. 

How Cancer and Cancer Treatments Can Affect Libido

  • Changes to your physical appearance, such as scars, hair loss, and weight fluctuations, may cause you to view your body differently than you did prior to cancer. This can impact how you interact with your partner. 

  • Pain, whether from your cancer, cancer treatments, or the physical act of sex, can make it difficult and uncomfortable to engage in physical intimacy. 

  • Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation can cause damage to nerves, blood vessels, and scar tissue—all of which can affect your desire to engage in sexual activity. 

  • Hormonal changes can cause hot flashes and vaginal dryness which can result in a decrease in desire for sex. 

  • Other side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, etc. can all play a role decreasing your desire to engage in sex.  

Management and Tips


  • If you have a partner, talk to them about how you are feeling regarding changes in sexual desire. Discuss expectations and boundaries surrounding physical and emotional intimacy for your comfort. 

  • Set special time aside for connecting with yourself or with your partner. This time may include focusing on your emotional and sexual connections, as intimacy is more than libido or sexual drive. Scheduling time allows you to prepare ahead and helps take any additional pressure off during times you may not be feeling well. 


  • Exercise releases endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine - chemicals responsible for mood and boost energy levels. Exercising prior to engaging in sexual activity can increase mood and overall well-being.  

  • Practice Kegel exercises to help strengthen pelvic floor muscles, if appropriate.  

Explore What Helps Increase Your Desire 

  • Some enjoy taking a warm bath, lighting candles, being out in nature, watching or listening to sexual videos, and/or playing relaxing music before, during, or after sexual activity.  

  • Explore other physical touches such as massage and cuddling to help build intimacy.

  • Vaginal creams, lubricants, and sexual aids (such as vibrators) can help improve sexual function.

  • It is important to know that it is okay and often normal to have limited libido and desire. 

Explore Outside Support