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Sex and intimacy

Your sex life probably wasn't the first thing on your mind when you found out you had cancer or during your treatments. It still may not be a priority to you now. It doesn't matter if you're in your 20s or your 70s, single or in a long-term or casual relationship, or whether you’re attracted to men or women, how you feel sexually may have changed since diagnosis.

In our sex and relationship survey, 90% of women said they had experienced changes in their sex life as a result of cervical cancer. Some felt it had improved, but over half of women were not satisfied with how things are now. Some changes to your sex life may require more specialised care, but other changes may be simple to improve and your Clinical Nurse Specialist will be able to offer you support and help.

Whilst this section is about sex, it's important to remember it is ok to want or not want to be sexual – it's only a problem if it's causing a problem for you. If you are currently in a relationship, you may want to read this information with your partner or they may wish to read it separately.

Sex isn't just about the act of intercourse, and for some people intercourse may not be involved at all. We're complex beings us humans (yes men as well!). Things that affect your sex life include what's happening for you emotionally, socially, personally, culturally and physically.


Your thoughts and feelings towards sex may have changed, for instance:

  • Treatments may affect how you view and connect with your body, and/or how your body works
  • Where you are in the cancer journey will also impact on how you feel about sex
  • Your relationships may have altered during this experience. It’s normal to go off sex at times of stress and fear and it can follow that you start to avoid other forms of intimacy as well. Changes in your sex life can be caused by both physical and emotional issues.

‘Normal’ sexual response, or what happens to your body during sexual encounters (including masturbation), has been researched for years and various stages or steps have been identified. These include desire/willingness, arousal, readiness (sometimes called ‘plateau’), orgasm/satisfaction and resolution. The stages are interlinked and overlap each other. Cancer, its treatment and the other factors mentioned above can interrupt any of the stages.

This section will look at key changes that may have a negative effect on you sexually. These include:

These pages aim to give you information on why your sex life may have changed and some tips on how you might improve things. Most importantly, we want you to know that you are not alone and, if you need it, help is available. Your GP or cancer team should also be able to offer advice and information, and the links in this section point to self help from professional sites and books. Some of you may benefit from professional help with a psychosexual therapist, information about how to access services is also included in this section.  

Let's Meet

We know discussing sex and intimacy can be really difficult for many people, so that’s why at our annual information and support day, Let’s Meet (15 September 2018), we run a session on sex and intimacy. You can sit back and listen to Dr. Isabel White, and if you are comfortable ask her any questions you may have. Find out more here

Date last updated: 
25 May 2017
Date due for review: 
25 May 2020
Featured case study: 
Marion's story

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