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Sexuality and Reproductive Issues (PDQ®): Supportive care - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Treatment of Sexual Problems in People With Cancer


For those couples who wish to have sexual intercourse, sexual positions that place no weight on a scar or ostomy and positions that allow better control of depth of penetration can be explored. The side-by-side position (spooning) in which the man is behind the woman, or the L-shaped position, with both partners lying down, torsos at right angles and legs entwined, are two possibilities. Comprehensive pamphlets on sexuality and cancer, for both men [3] and women,[4] provide illustrations of sexual positions and other self-help information.

For patients with colostomies or ileostomies, pamphlets are available from national organizations related to resuming sexual activity including topics such as sex and the female ostomate, sex and the male ostomate, and gay and lesbian ostomates. Providers can educate patients on limiting food intake before anticipated sexual activity, watching the types of food consumed, and planning times for intimacy when a bowel movement is less likely. Although the ostomy pouch is typically changed when about one-third full, patients should be taught to empty the pouch sooner when anticipating sexual intimacy. Patients may fear that the ostomy bag will interfere with sexual intimacy, become dislodged, or cause damage to the stoma. An empty and flat ostomy bag will not become dislodged from the stoma and can be rolled up or taped down so that it will not get in the way of sexual intimacy. Decorative covers may also be worn.[5,6][Level of evidence: IV] A much greater selection of products for ostomates exists today than in years past, including disposable pouches, reusable pouches that empty from the bottom or top while still attached, pouches with filters to control odors, and pouches that hang sideways instead of down for physical activity. Patients concerned about potential odor can use deodorant tablets or liquids in the bottom of the pouch or as recommended by the manufacturer.[6]

Providers can help educate couples by offering practical suggestions to overcome changes in responsiveness to sexual stimulation. Couples should allow plenty of time for sexual expression with sufficient foreplay to develop the fullest possible sexual arousal. For some couples, early morning may be a good restful time for sexual expression. Conditions that facilitate sexual pleasure should be explored and may include relaxation, dreams, fantasy, deep breathing, and recalling positive experiences with the partner.

Erection problems are the most common sexual dysfunction for which men seek help after cancer treatment. Many men with erectile dysfunction are able to have an orgasm with oral or manual stimulation; many partners are satisfied and orgasmic with noncoital stimulation. If the desire for intercourse remains, there are several treatment options available for erectile dysfunction, depending on the cause and degree of dysfunction. Only a small percentage of men with erection problems seek help.[7,8]


WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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