Ovarian Cancer

Sexual relationships

Both the diagnosis of ovarian cancer and being treated can affect a woman's sexuality. Women are usually advised to wait at least six weeks after a hysterectomy before having intercourse, and naturally, many women worry about resuming sexual activity. However, some felt it was important to start having sex again because it is a positive part of being close and they did not want to lose this part of their life. 

Some women were concerned that their partners might no longer find them attractive because of changes in their body such as the loss of their female reproductive organs, surgical scars, weight gain or hair loss (see 'Body image'). Women who had lost their hair sometimes wore a wig in bed with their partner. Other women were concerned about the possibility of physical changes to their vagina resulting from surgery that might make sex less comfortable or change the sensations they or their partner felt. One woman said that, whilst her husband insisted he was still attracted to her, she no longer saw herself as a sexual person because of the changes to her body. Because she felt more spiritual, and less physical, she had wondered about exploring Tantric sex (an Eastern influenced form of sexual connection that emphasises emotional rather than physical connection) with her partner, but he had yet to be convinced.

Women may also feel less interested in sex because of the effects of treatment. Both chemotherapy and hormonal changes brought on by removal of the ovaries can cause loss of libido, and many women said they had not had sex since their illness. One young woman said that she didn't see the point now that she was infertile. Some said they had had sex but it was painful or uncomfortable, or they had bled as a result, so they did it less often than before their illness, or found other ways to be intimate with their partners.

Several women were conscious that it was difficult for their partners to come to terms with an abrupt halt to their sex lives. One woman said that because she did not want any physical contact it would have been easier if she had been single. Others said that their husbands had been afraid of causing damage or pain, and one said that her husband had become temporarily impotent as a result of the different sensations he felt during sex. Despite these difficulties several women said their partners had been understanding and supportive.

Health professionals do not often seem to raise the issue of women's sex lives after treatment - some women thought they should. If the subject is raised couples can be referred to the specialist nurse and then referred on for psychosexual therapy if needed. One woman's GP had offered therapy, but the couple agreed it wasn't much of a problem to them. Another women who thought her husband suffered from the loss of their sexual relationship said she was too private about these things to want to talk to a counsellor.

Some women were able to resume a normal sex life after their treatment, and one woman said that the experience of her illness had actually strengthened her marriage.

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Last reviewed June 2016.


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