- Question from Website Question: I was told if one is getting chemo that sex is not permitted unless a condom is worn. Is this true?
Marisa Weiss, M.D.
After you have chemotherapy, your body gets rid of the chemotherapy in various ways. Depending upon the chemotherapy, it may leave your body through the urine, partly through your bowels and through other secretions. So, just after you have chemo, some of the chemotherapy drugs can be measurable in your vaginal secretions. This could possibly irritate the penis.
Some doctors recommend that in the first day or two after chemotherapy (that's if you're in the mood and you want sex at that time), you use a condom just to prevent contact between the penis and your vaginal secretions that may have a low level of chemotherapy in them. One of the things that Su and I want you to think about is what's going on in your own mind. We're not recommending that you assume a sexual life if you're not ready.
One of the key things that will help reclaim your sex life is when you feel you're ready emotionally or physically to try to bring this back into your life. Neither one of us is encouraging you to become sexually active if you don't feel well and you don't feel up to it. For example, if you're experiencing nausea or pain from chemotherapy (some of the chemotherapies cause mouth sores as well as vaginal sores), then it's unlikely that you're going to be interested in sex.
If you feel that way, let your partner know that you're feeling poorly, that you're not interested in sex that night, and that it has nothing to do with how much you're normally attracted to him or her. Often communicating this can make your partner feel wanted, not rejected, even if you're not sexually active at that time.
When a woman has a baby, the last thing she's interested in for the first weeks to months is sex, but she feels absolutely no guilt about that because her hormones are so fixed on the baby. All of society says it's absolutely right for her to be totally fixed on the baby and couples survive that (though men grouse about it).
But, as a comparable situation, it may be a time that sex as an act that you give to someone else or do for someone else is not going to be in your repertoire while you need energy for yourself. When sex feels like it's giving to you also and lifting you up as well, that's the time to add it to your life.
The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Sleep or Sex? You Can Have Both! featured Carroll Kenderdine, M.D. and Marisa Weiss, M.D. answering your questions about how to maintain sexual intimacy during and after treatment, what to do for loss of libido and vaginal dryness, ways to reduce the fatigue related to breast cancer, and more.
Editor's Note: This conference took place in May 2004.
The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.
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