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Ovarian Cancer: Sex and Intimacy

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on May 04, 2021

Your sex life may change with ovarian cancer. Changes in hormones and treatments may make your body feel different. Your emotions may also change how you feel about sex.

Even if your sex life changes, it can still be satisfying. Most women with ovarian cancer still feel pleasure from touching, reach orgasm, and have a healthy sex life.

Common Changes

Symptoms and the mental toll of ovarian cancer may affect how you feel about sex, both physically and emotionally.

Your body may feel weak or tired from treatment. Changes in hormones may lead to symptoms of menopause, like vaginal dryness and hot flashes. Changes in estrogen may make your vagina feel dry or tight, which can be uncomfortable or painful during sex.

You may notice a change in your sexual desire or libido. You may have fewer thoughts about sex or be turned off by the idea of sex.

If you feel different about your body or your appearance, it may affect how you feel about having sex. You may not feel like yourself after physical changes like bloating, hair loss, or weight gain. It’s common to feel emotionally detached or removed from your body.

Your medication may also affect your sexual desire. Some medications used during and after treatment, like anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, anti-nausea drugs, and opiate pain medications, may lower your sex drive.

How to Manage Changes and Improve Your Sex Life

Even with changes from ovarian cancer, there are many things you can do to feel good and have a satisfying sex life.

Manage vaginal dryness.

To make sex more comfortable, try a vaginal lubricant. Choose a water-based gel. Avoid oil-based lubricants, petroleum jelly, and skin lotions.

For long-term improvement, try a vaginal moisturizer. Vaginal moisturizers are non-hormonal and help renew your vaginal tissue. They may give you long-lasting relief from itching and irritation and improve your vaginal lining. Apply the moisturizer regularly, at bedtime. Remember to moisturize your vulva too.

Be gentle. Avoid deodorants, douches, harsh soaps, lotions, and perfumes near or in your vaginal area.

Learn how to relax your vaginal muscles.

If you feel pain during sex, you may tighten your vaginal muscles because you’re worried it’ll hurt. This makes your vagina tighter and may create more friction and irritation during sex.

Try relaxation techniques to help you control your vaginal muscles. By tensing and then relaxing your muscles, you’ll have better control of them and be able to relax them more during sex.

Find new techniques.

What you did before may not work as well now. That’s OK. Try new things to find what’s more comfortable and pleasurable now.

Try new sexual positions. Go slowly. Some things may work and some things may not. Try to approach your sex life with a sense of humor and patience. It may take time to find your new sexual repertoire.

Try self-touch.

Discover what gives you pleasure without the pressure of sexual intercourse. Explore your body. Try a vibrator. Or have your partner use it on you to find new ways of feeling good. Enjoy the process of getting to know your body better and what makes it feel good.

Focus on foreplay.

If it takes longer for your body to be sexually aroused, foreplay may help. As your body becomes aroused during foreplay, your body will start to produce natural lubrication to get you ready for sex.

Go for quality over quantity.

Symptoms from treatment like fatigue, bloating, and pain may limit how often you want to have sex. Try going for quality instead of quantity. Plan to have sex when you feel better. Give yourself time to get in the mood.

Talk to your partner.

Communicate openly with your partner. Be honest. Talk about how you feel physically and emotionally. Your partner may be worried about hurting you during sex. Try to approach your changing sex life together.

Talk to your doctor.

Tell your doctor about changes and concerns. Your doctor may not bring up the subject of sex, so it’s important that you do.

Find a member of your medical team, like a nurse, oncologist, or social worker, who you feel comfortable talking to. Have a list of questions ready for your next appointment.

Your doctor may make changes in your medication, recommend physical therapy to strengthen your pelvic floor, or recommend a sex therapist.

Talk to a therapist or sexual health expert.

Talk to a sex educator, counselor, or therapist. They may help you work on mind-body techniques to help you with intimacy. They can help with physical problems and emotional issues to help you feel better about yourself and improve your sex life.

Boost yourself up.

Do things that make you feel good about yourself. Learn to embrace your natural look. Or try new wigs, hats, scarves, or clothes that make you feel more attractive. Surround yourself with people who you feel good with. Try meditation or yoga. Do more of what makes you happy.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Cancer Society: “How Cancer and Cancer Treatment Can Affect Sexuality,” “Managing Female Sexual Problems Related to Cancer.”

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: “Sexual Health, Intimacy, and Cancer.”

National Ovarian Cancer Coalition: “Quality of Life Issues.”

Stamford Health: “Ovarian Cancer and Your Sex Life.”

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