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How To Maintain Intimacy While Fighting Cancer

February 02, 2023

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can affect many aspects of a patient’s life, including sexual intimacy and their relationship with a spouse or partner. But intimacy, even while fighting cancer, is important. Having that close connection with someone can make facing the challenges of cancer more bearable.

The Effect of Cancer on Relationships and Physical Intimacy

There is no doubt that the physical and emotional impact of cancer and its treatment can influence your relationship with your romantic partner. A person’s sexual desire and function, along with body image, can change during a cancer journey. According to a recent survey, nearly half (49%) of all respondents said their cancer journey negatively impacted the bond with their spouse.

The survey polled both cancer survivors and people who are currently being treated for cancer to understand the impact cancer has on self-perception, body image, and mental and emotional health. Patients indicated that their illness impacted their perception of their body in several ways:

  • 50% of respondents indicated they felt less attractive
  • 36% avoided intimacy
  • 31% felt less feminine or masculine

Ways Cancer Treatment Impacts Sexual Intimacy

It is normal to have concerns about how cancer will affect intimacy and sexual activity. Often patients struggle with self-acceptance and/or other negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

Treatment symptoms like lack of energy or chronic fatigue, weight loss or gain, loss of hair, and scarring from surgical procedures can directly influence one’s desire to be intimate with others or the physical ability to have or enjoy sex.

Intimacy Is More Than Just Being Physical

Intimacy is not only about sexual activity. There are other ways to honor a relationship and still feel intimately loved, understood, and comforted. For patients who may feel protective of and less than happy with how their body looks, intimacy could be maintained by sharing their concern with a partner and being honest about their changes and feelings. Simple words like “I love you” and “I’m here for you” or sharing emotional moments can be deeply intimate.

Communication Is Key

Communication with a spouse or partner is important when it comes to intimacy and cancer. Cancer patients and their partners need reassurance that their significant other still has an interest in being intimate. Being open with each other is a good way to examine and explore feelings together -- whether it’s a desire for physical affection, a temporary lack of desire, or concerns about body image. Chances are that a partner is most likely waiting for a sign to know what to do, how to act, or what is needed.

A patient’s care team can be a helpful resource in working through concerns about self-image and ability or desire for sexual intimacy. Ask what to expect and keep open lines of communication about changes in sexual activity through treatment. Like many aspects of cancer, these are not always easy conversations to have, but your care team is ready to help manage these concerns.

Focus on the Positive

Patients should try to focus on what they appreciate about themselves and their body. When it comes to understanding how physical changes impact the way cancer patients view their body, the recent survey indicates that 45 percent of respondents feel grateful for their body’s perseverance throughout treatment.

Maintaining intimacy through good communication and a strong support system when going through cancer can have a positive impact on mental and emotional health. In fact, it might even strengthen bonds and lead to new ways to express intimacy and sexuality.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.