Sex and cancer if you are single

If you are single and have cancer, you may have concerns about starting a new relationship, dealing with infertility or coping with rejection. 

Your feelings

Feeling sexual and attractive to others might still be important if you are single and have cancer. The physical and emotional changes cancer can cause might make it difficult for you to feel comfortable about your sexuality and starting a new relationship.

Try talking to a close friend or family member. If you feel able, you can show them any scars or changes to your body. This can help boost your confidence and make finding a new partner less frightening if the time comes. You could try counselling if you want to speak to someone outside your family and friends.

Try to focus on your good points rather than the things you are not happy with because of your cancer. Try to eat well and exercise regularly. This helps you keep your spirits up and feel good about yourself.

Most importantly, take your time and do not feel you must rush into a new relationship. You have been through a lot. It can help to take time to accept any changes to your body yourself before sharing them with a new partner.

Starting a new relationship

After all you have been through with your cancer and its treatment, finding a new partner can seem very daunting. It can be difficult to find the right time and words to tell a new person in your life about any major body changes. Even if many of the changes are not visible, you might just feel very different about your body and less attractive than you used to. But these feelings won’t necessarily last forever.

You might be very worried about sex being painful if you had surgery to your genital area. Your partner won't be able to support you in the right way if they do not know this. They will not know they might need to take things very gently and slowly, so it is important to tell them.

Physical changes

If you have physical changes to your body such as a colostomy or removal of a breast you will naturally be worried about a new partner’s reaction to this. If you want the relationship to become physical, you have to get past the hurdle of letting them see the changes to your body for the first time.

It might seem difficult, but talking honestly is the best way to approach this. You might want to prepare what you want to say. It might help to show them any body changes before sexual activity, so you can get used to how that makes you both feel.

How they might react

It is important to prepare yourself for the possibility that a new partner may seem shocked or upset by the changes to your body and all you have been through. This does not mean they do not find you attractive or that they do not want to continue a relationship with you. This is new for them and they may need some time to feel comfortable. 

The more you can discuss your sexuality and sexual needs with a new partner, the easier things will be. Once you feel more comfortable with the changes your cancer has caused, your partner will too. It might take time and there's no need to rush things.

Showing affection

It might be helpful, or necessary, to put intercourse on hold for a while and focus on showing each other affection. Taking time to talk, cuddle, kiss and enjoy being together can make it easier to take the step when you want to move on to a more intimate physical relationship.

Some people might want a caring companion in their life but not to have sex. You might want to cuddle, kiss and hold hands, but nothing more. This is still possible with the right person. It is just important that you let your new partner know this is what you want. Loving relationships are not all about having sex.

You might avoid getting into a relationship because you are afraid of being rejected. Although rejection can happen, it is important you try not to let it stop you. With the right person most people will be able to have a loving and caring relationship.

If the relationship gets more serious

As your relationship deepens and you become more secure in being with the person, hopefully you will feel more comfortable discussing your cancer.

At first you might try to ignore the fact that you had cancer. You might think that because you are well now, it is not necessary to discuss what you went through. You might feel you do not want to risk upsetting your partner or changing their views of you. But this is not always the best way to handle things.

There are certain things that might need to be discussed before you plan a life together. Not talking about these things might cause problems for both of you.

If you can't have children

You might have lost your ability to have children (your fertility) because of the side effects of your treatment. This can be very painful to deal with. Finding the right time to tell a new partner about this might be extremely hard. Even if you can still have children, you might worry that your cancer will come back and you won’t live long enough to see them grow up.

Talking to your partner about these issues is very important for you both. A loving partner will be supportive and continue to love you as you are. 

What if someone rejects me?

Sadly, some people may reject you because of your cancer and its treatment. If this happens it can be very upsetting and shocking. It is likely to really knock your confidence. You might think everyone is going to react in the same way and you will never meet anyone who will love you for who you are.

Coping with rejection

Many people face rejection from a partner at some time during our life. It might be difficult to believe at the time, but often the best way to deal with it is to tell yourself they just were not the right person for you. Try not to let it put you off going on to meet someone else.

There are a few people in the world who are cautious or afraid of people who have had cancer. They might be worried that the cancer is catching, or that the person with cancer is unclean. Of course, neither of these ideas is true.

You might choose to ignore the comments and not get involved with this person. Or you can try to explain to them that it just is not true. Most people are better informed these days, and it is less common for people to believe these old cancer myths.

If you have advanced cancer

Having advanced cancer means your cancer can’t be cured. But it doesn't necessarily mean you are terminally ill. Whatever your situation, you might still have needs and desires. Even if you don’t feel like having sexual intercourse, you might still have sexual feelings, even if you are very ill.

You might have an even stronger need for intimacy in your life than before you had cancer. Physical closeness, sharing your feelings and touching might become very important. Knowing your cancer can’t be cured can bring up some very strong emotions in you.

This can be very difficult to cope with if you're single and don’t have the support of a caring partner. Try not to let it put you off sharing your feelings with close friends and family. The right person will be able to give you a lot of support. You might need to open up a bit and share how you really feel.

Last reviewed: 
04 Oct 2021
Next review due: 
04 Oct 2024
  • Man Cancer Sex

    A Katz 

    Hygeia Media, 2010

  • Woman Cancer Sex (2nd edition)

    A Katz

    Routledge, 2020

Related links