Is it safe to have sex with my husband while undergoing chemotherapy?

Answers from Timothy J. Moynihan, M.D.

It's best to discuss any concerns about chemotherapy and sex with your doctor, who's familiar with your individual situation. In general, however, it's usually OK to have sex while undergoing chemotherapy — as long as you're feeling up to it.

Many factors can influence decisions about chemotherapy and sex. Here are some things to consider:

  • What type of cancer do you have? Cancers involving the genital tract may require special caution when it comes to sex. After a procedure or therapy that affects the genital tract, your doctor may recommend abstaining from sexual activity until healing is complete.
  • What type of chemotherapy are you receiving? Some types of chemotherapy can lead to changes in the lining of the vagina, which may make vaginal injuries more likely during intercourse. During intercourse, normal bacteria that live on the skin or in the genital tract may be introduced into your bloodstream.

    If your chemotherapy reduces the levels of your germ-fighting white blood cells, you may not be protected from these bacteria. Your doctor may recommend you avoid sexual intercourse until your white blood cell counts rise to safe levels.

    If chemotherapy causes a low platelet count, intercourse could cause bleeding. If your platelet count is extremely low, severe bleeding could occur.

  • Could you become pregnant? Pregnancy is discouraged during chemotherapy, due to the potential effects on the developing baby. If conception is possible, your doctor will likely encourage you to choose a reliable method of birth control.
  • Are you feeling up to it? During chemotherapy, fatigue or other side effects may decrease your interest in sex. If you're not interested in intercourse, remember that there's more to an intimate relationship than sex. Look for other ways to express affection, such as kissing, cuddling or other shared activities.
Feb. 01, 2013 See more Expert Answers