Older couple talking in bed

Colon Cancer and Intimacy


  • Colon cancer and intimacy are rarely discussed, even by doctors. 
  • Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer type in the U.S. 
  • Treatment can affect your ability and willingness to be intimate. 
  • Talk to your partner about sexual problems, such as erectile dysfunction. 

Colon cancer and intimacy are often omitted in discussions about the impact of diseases on relationships. If you’ve been recently diagnosed, you may be wondering if you can ever have fun in bed again. The short answer is yes! But it might take some adjustments. Here’s what you need to know:

Colon Cancer Is More Common Than You Think

Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the United States. It’s also a third leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Fortunately, thanks to modern screening options, more people are diagnosed at an early stage and have a better chance of survival. 

Treatment options for colorectal cancer depend on the stage of the disease and its location. Common solutions include surgical removal of tumors, chemotherapy, and radiation. All these methods have side effects and may impact your sex life. 

Cancer Is Not the End of Intimacy

Sexuality of people with cancer is still a big taboo. No one makes romantic movies about people with belly pouches that collect poo! And while the subject itself is sensitive, many people who go through colorectal cancer treatments are sexually active. Staying intimate is an important part of the healing process because it helps you cope with emotions. 

Don’t let anyone tell you that you should give up and forget about eroticism because you have cancer. Sometimes even doctors forget about this important aspect of life. Gather the courage to ask questions and encourage suggestions to help you enjoy sex at every stage of your cancer treatment. 

Happy couple in bed
Colon cancer doesn’t mean the end of intimacy

Colon Cancer and Intimacy

Cancer and its treatment affect all aspects of life, including sex and relationships. There are many physical and psychological side effects that can make intimacy difficult or even painful. Let’s take a look at how colorectal cancer can impact intimacy.

Before Treatment

The first stage of your cancer journey is, in many ways, the most difficult as you go through the uncertainty of tests and consultations. Learning that you have cancer can take a toll on your mental health. 

Here are some of the things to consider at this stage:

  • Low libido. Going through initial diagnostics and learning about the disease may cause you to lose interest in intimacy. Stress is a normal reaction. Your body and mind go into an emergency mode and “switch off” unnecessary functions, such as your sex drive.
  • Lack of satisfaction. For some people, the symptoms of colon cancer, such as pain or digestive issues, may reduce the pleasurable sensations of sex. In addition, you may feel too depressed to experience orgasm. 
  • Fertility options. If dealing with bad news about cancer wasn’t hard enough, you may also feel pressured to think about family planning in that pretreatment period. The good news is that fertility preservation is easy for men. All you need to do is store your sperm at a sperm bank. 

During Treatment

Most cancer treatments are invasive and have short and possibly long-term effects on the quality of your life. This includes your sex life. 

Here’s what men can experience during colorectal cancer treatments:

  • Erectile dysfunction. Colon cancer and ED tend to go together. Radiation, surgical nerve damage, and other treatments can lead to temporary difficulties achieving and keeping an erection. Studies vary but suggest that between 5 percent and 88 percent of males have some form of sexual dysfunction, including ED, after colorectal cancer treatment. Factors that can contribute to the wide range include the type of treatment and whether the patient had problems before surgery.
  • Low testosterone. Chemotherapy affects your hormone levels, including your main sex hormone, testosterone. As a result, your sex drive may take a dip. You may also feel too tired for lovemaking. 
  • Ostomy. With some types of colorectal cancer, removing part of the bowel results in a stoma and having to use an ostomy bag. This is a big change, and you may feel too worried or ashamed to attempt intimacy again. 

After Treatment

The negative treatment effects may not go away easily after the procedures are finished. You may still see hormonal imbalances and erectile dysfunction. Moreover, certain psychological issues may affect your readiness to return to intimacy. 

  • You may develop performance anxiety around sex, which could lead to premature ejaculation or ED. 
  • You may be worried that cancer might come back. 
  • You may feel self-conscious about your body and its functions.
  • If you have an ostomy, it might take time to accept. 
Male hands closing off genital area
Erectile dysfunction is a common side effect of cancer treatments

Talking to Your Partner About Intimacy

Colon cancer and sex may not be the sexiest conversation starter, but you still need to talk about it with your partner. You’re in this together, and your significant other can help you get through the tough times. Here are some tips to get started:

  • Learn the language. Many people find it hard to talk about intimate matters because they lack the words to describe body parts or activities. Watch some educational films, or read a few books on the topic. Make yourself familiar with the terms to feel more comfortable discussing these topics. 
  • Admit it’s not easy. In hard conversations, honesty is your best policy. Tell your partner that you feel uncertain and shy. Don’t try to pretend you’re superhuman. Intimate communication is something we all need to learn and improve upon. 
  • Ask questions. Don’t assume that, since you’re the one with cancer, you’re the only one who’s having a hard time in bed and in the relationship. Your partner is going through a lot as well. They may worry about your health or wonder if they are doing a good job supporting you. They may even avoid sex for fear of causing you pain. 
  • Get creative. If traditional intercourse is off the menu, discuss other ways you can nurture eroticism. Consider getting some sex toys and making sensual massage your new favorite tool.

Getting Help for Sexual Problems

Colon cancer and intimacy don’t mix well, but you can still have satisfying sex! For some intimate issues, an honest conversation or tips from a sex therapist can make all the difference. 

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