Cancer Cancer Education

Sexual health, intimacy & cancer: a guide for men

thoughtful middle aged man

People with cancer can experience many different feelings as they go from diagnosis, through treatments and then return to the business of living the rest of their lives after cancer.

Fear, anger, loneliness are all common, and it may be difficult to talk about these feelings and keep communication open between family and loved ones. It might be difficult to open up and ask questions, but remember that your healthcare team is here to help you with all issues that are important to you, including sexual activity and intimacy.

For general information about sexual health and cancer, plenty of information is available online and at the Patient Education and Research Learning Centre (PEARL) located in the Odette Cancer Centre.

Asking questions about sex

Think about some specific sex-based questions that might be important to you. Men who have partners may be concerned that cancer can be passed on during sex, or that their partner could be harmed by the drugs they are taking or radiation therapy they are receiving. Your team can answer your questions or find the information you need so that you can continue with sexual activity and intimacy during your treatments. Your healthcare team can prepare you for any physical, mental or emotional changes  you may experience after treatment.

Maintaining sexual function

All men, including those with regular sex partners and those who don’t have a regular partner, may be concerned about their ability to have sex and be intimate in the future. It is very important to discuss these concerns with your healthcare team so you can maintain sexual function.

The “use it or lose it” saying is  true with sexual function. So having regular erections, whether you are sexually active or not, is important for the future ability to engage in penetrative intercourse. Self stimulation (masturbation) can be useful to maintain blood flow and penile health and this is often recommended after pelvic surgery. If sex becomes painful at any time after surgery or treatments, you can ask your healthcare team what to do.

Self-care strategies such as Kegel exercises can help to maintain pelvic muscle tone that is important for bladder control. Smoking and obesity are linked to erectile issues, so this may be a good time to think about quitting, starting an exercise regimen, or considering your diet. There is support available at the Odette Cancer Centre to help you with all of these strategies, so feel free to ask your healthcare team to connect you with the appropriate resource.

Intimacy: not just sexual

Intimacy is important to our health and it can include sexual activities. It can also involve any other activity that helps you to feel close to others and close to yourself. Holding hands; hugging; attending community, spiritual, and even sporting events with others can bring you close and make you feel connected to others.

Being able to carry on with those sexual and non-sexual activities that connect us to others and to ourselves can be very important to men with cancer. Write down your questions and start the conversations with your health care team; there is a world of resources out there to help you.


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About the author

Angela Turner

Angela Turner is a Clinical Specialist Radiation Therapist in Supportive Care and Sexual Health at the Odette Cancer Centre.

Over the last few years, Angela has completed training and skills development in sexual health care, counselling and sex therapy training.

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