How Can I Engage In Sexual Activity Safely During Treatment?

As cancer and cancer treatment can bring about changes to your body, and cause your immune system to be vulnerable at certain times during treatment, it is natural to wonder when or if it is safe to engage in sexual activity while going through treatment. Being able to engage in sexual activity can be an important quality of life; it is important to talk with your medical team about any questions or concerns you may have with regards to sexual activity during treatment. As you think about questions to ask your medical team, it can be helpful to think about the types of sexual activities and behaviors that you enjoy engaging in. The following is a sampling of common questions that you could ask your oncologist when discussing sex during treatment: 

  • From an infection standpoint, when are the safest times (typically when blood counts are higher) and when are the riskiest times (typically when blood cell counts are lower and you are at greater risk of getting an infection) when I can engage in sexual activities? 

  • Should I be mindful of my risk of bleeding from certain sexual activities? Should I be aware of my risk for bleeding due to my cancer type? Are there times during cancer treatment when I am at a higher risk of bleeding due to my blood count level? 

  • Can I transmit my cancer to another person through sexual activity? 

  • How soon after surgery is it safe to engage in sexual activity? 

  • Is it safe to masturbate while going through cancer treatment? 

  • Is it safe to engage in sexual activity while going through radiation treatment? 

  • I’m having a source of radiation implanted into my body – how soon after the implantation is it safe to engage in sexual activity with another person? 

  • How do I safely engage in oral safe during cancer treatment? Can I transmit chemotherapy or radiation to another person through oral sex? 

  • Should I be mindful of open wounds or tears in the genital area? Or around my mouth? What about any open wounds or tears in the genital region of my partner(s)? Or around their mouth(s)? 

  • Can certain sexual activities or positions feel less pleasurable or painful as I undergo cancer treatment? 

  • Is it possible for my desire to engage in sexual activity decrease during treatment? 

  • Do I still need to concern myself with contracting sexually related diseases / infections while going through cancer treatment? 

  • Is it possible to become pregnant during cancer treatment? 

Some Important Considerations Around Sexual Activity and Cancer Treatment: 

  • If you are pregnant or your partner is pregnant, talk with your doctors about any precautions you should take to minimize exposure of chemotherapy or radiation to yourself, to your partner and to the fetus.  

  • Talk with your doctor about the potential value of using latex condoms (including female condoms) for protection against transmitting chemotherapy or targeted therapy (targeted therapy includes drugs like imatinib, thalidomide, or lenalidomide) to your partner. Beyond preventing unintended pregnancy, condom use avoids exposing your partner to any drugs concentrated in semen or vaginal fluids.  

  • A condom should be used with vaginal or anal sex. You can use a dental dam (thin sheet of latex put over the vulva) during oral sex on a woman. 

  • Ask your doctors how long you need to use a condom after each dose of chemotherapy, since drugs stay in your body fluids for varying amounts of time.  

  • If you are on a targeted therapy, you should use condoms not only while actively taking the drugs, but for 90 days afterwards. These drugs can cause severe birth defects if a fetus is exposed during a woman’s pregnancy, although their impact on a man’s sperm cells is not clear. 

  • Male or female condoms are also important because they give protection against infections that are contagious during sex.