Talking about sex and relationships

Some people find it easy to talk about sex and relationships. Others feel embarrassed just thinking about it. It may not be easy, but talking about a problem can be the first step towards sorting it out.

Young couple talking outside

Try to find someone you trust and feel comfortable talking to. This could be a partner, family member, friend or healthcare professional. You could talk face to face or on the phone. Or you may find it easier to send an email, letter or text.

It might help to think about:

  • what you want to say and why
  • how the other person might react
  • how you might feel about their reaction.

It can help to let the other person know you want to talk about something private. Some people may not know cancer and its treatment can affect your sex life or fertility. They may not know what to say, or may have their own feelings to cope with. Even people who understand can find it hard to talk about these issues.

Talking to a partner

If you are in a relationship, try to be honest about how you feel. If cancer or its treatment have changed how you feel about your body or sex, let your partner know. This gives them the chance to understand and support you. You might also find they have questions to ask you. Try to listen to and answer each other’s questions and concerns.

Talking to a friend

You may find it hard to talk to your friends after being diagnosed with cancer. You may feel even your closest friends do not understand what you are going through. It may help to explain to one or two friends what it is like for you. 

Some people find it easier to talk to someone who has had cancer treatment. Some organisations run support groups or online groups. Or you can ask your healthcare team for information about groups in your area.

Talking to family

All families are different. Some talk about relationships and sex openly, while others might not. There may be people in your family who you are comfortable talking to. But it can sometimes be hard to talk about certain things, especially if you find they get upset.

Some families and communities have strong views about fertility and having fertility treatments. They may also have opinions about being straight, gay, bisexual or trans. This could make it harder to talk openly about relationships and sex with them – especially if they do not know cancer and its treatment can affect these things. You may find people sometimes seem insensitive, but they may not realise the effect of what they are saying.

If you are worried about talking to your family, it may help to speak to someone from your healthcare team first. They may be able to give you advice and support. Sometimes they can help you prepare for a hard conversation. They might even be able to be with you when you talk to your family.

Talking to your healthcare team

Your healthcare team can give you information and support during and after cancer treatment. They are experts and will understand any issues you have. If you have questions about sex or relationships, ask them. They will understand these questions are important to you.

You may have questions you do not want to ask in front of your partner, family or other people. Let your cancer doctor or specialist nurse know you want to talk about something privately.
They will arrange a time and place to do this. If there is someone in the team you feel more comfortable with, you can ask to talk to them.

If you finished cancer treatment some time ago, you can ask questions at your follow‑up clinic appointments or talk to your GP. Remember, your healthcare team often talk to people about sex, feelings and how the body works. They will not be surprised or embarrassed.

What can you ask?

You can ask your healthcare team about anything. If you are worried about something, it has probably been a problem for someone else too. You might want to talk about your feelings and how you are coping. You may also have questions about how your body works now or about having sex.

You do not need to know all the right words about sex or your body. Just explain what is wrong in your own words and say how you feel about it. If someone uses words you do not understand, ask them to explain. If the information or support does not help, ask again.

How can they help?

Your healthcare team may be able to give you information or support to cope with a problem. They may also know about other people who can help you. Sometimes they can arrange for you to see other professionals, for example a specialist doctor, counsellor or social worker. Or they may give you information about other organisations or groups that you can contact.

Will they tell anyone else?

Your healthcare team usually keep anything you share with them private. That means they will not tell other people that you have spoken to them, or what you talked about, unless you want
them to. This is even if you are under 16.

The only time they will tell someone else is if they think you have been harmed or are at risk of harm. This is rare, and they will try to tell you first if they are going to do this.

Sometimes a professional may ask your permission to talk to other professionals who are seeing you. For example, a counsellor may want to tell your doctor they have seen you. But it is your decision whether you want them to share this information.