Is it safe to have sex while undergoing chemotherapy?
Answer From Karthik Giridhar, 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 of the genital tract, urinary tract, anus or rectum may require special caution when it comes to sex. After a procedure or therapy that affects these areas, your doctor may recommend abstaining from sexual activity until healing is complete.
What type of chemotherapy are you receiving? Different chemotherapy drugs cause different side effects. For example, if chemotherapy reduces the levels of your germ-fighting white blood cells, you may not be protected from bacteria that can be introduced into the body during sexual intercourse. Your doctor may recommend that you avoid sex until your white blood cell counts rise to safe levels.
If your chemotherapy causes a low platelet count, intercourse could cause bleeding. If your platelet count is extremely low, severe bleeding could occur.
- Is pregnancy possible? Pregnancy is strongly discouraged during chemotherapy due to the potential effects on the developing baby. If it's possible for you or your partner to become pregnant during sex, 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, including effects on hormonal levels, 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.
Karthik Giridhar, M.D.
April 07, 2021
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- Cancer, sex and the male body. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/fertility-and-sexual-side-effects/sexuality-for-men-with-cancer/how-male-body-works-sexually.html. Accessed March 16, 2021.
- Chemotherapy and you: Support for people with cancer. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/chemo-and-you. Accessed. Feb. 5, 2021.