Cervical Cancer

Sex and sexuality after cervical cancer

Both being diagnosed with cervical cancer and undergoing treatment can affect how a woman feels about herself sexually. Some treatments for cervical cancer, such as radiotherapy and hysterectomy, can cause physical changes which may affect a woman's sex life but many of these effects can be prevented or treated.

Many women we interviewed had felt very anxious about having sex after their treatment in case it would cause bleeding, be painful, or that it would feel very different to how it felt before treatment, or even that it might make the cancer return. Several said their partners had worried at first that they might hurt them. Some recently treated women were still facing these challenges, others had overcome their initial fears and had been able to rebuild their sex lives.

Radiotherapy to the pelvis can cause dryness or narrowing of the vagina. After some initial vaginal dryness or noticing that their vagina was narrower, most women who had only radiotherapy found that their sex life returned to normal. One woman explains how her sex life had improved after because she no longer had vaginal bleeding.

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During a Radical or Wertheim's hysterectomy the vagina may be shortened. Some who had such an operation, or a trachelectomy, said that they had noticed only a slight physical difference when they first had sex, but not one that had a negative effect on their sex life.

One said that she had experienced no difference in her sex life after her trachelectomy. Only a few mentioned that they had less intense orgasms or they had found sex slightly painful. A few commented that their partners had noticed a slight difference at the end of the vagina where it had been shortened or greater vaginal dryness, but it had not had a negative effect on their sex life.

Some women restarted their sex life quickly after treatment to ensure that all was well. Others waited between six months and in a few cases a year. A few said they had a temporary loss of interest in sex at first which eventually returned to normal.

A few experienced some initial difficulty rebuilding their sex life because their vagina felt narrower and was smaller but these difficulties had been overcome. One woman explained how her partner had a period of impotence for a brief period because he was worried about hurting her which returned to normal after seeing a counsellor.

Several women did not feel any different about their sexuality after their treatment. One woman described feeling less attractive for a while after her hysterectomy because of the physical side effects she experienced. Another who had recent treatment said she found it difficult to feel sexual after all the examinations and treatment she had had. A third had thought other people might believe she had been promiscuous which had initially affected how she felt about herself sexually but these feelings had soon passed.

Infertility is a side effect of some treatments given for cervical cancer and can affect how women see themselves. Several said they did not feel any less of a woman but some younger women described feeling less appealing because they could no longer have children. Others who had treatment several years ago commented that these types of feelings had gone away over time. One older woman whose radiotherapy had caused her to have a premature menopause explained said that she had initially felt less womanly after her treatment.

Last reviewed July 2017.

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