Going through chemotherapy treatment is both a physical and emotional experience. During this time, you might be wondering whether it’s safe to have sex. Each person is different, but in general, it’s safe to have sex on chemotherapy, as long as certain precautions are in place.

Since this decision is personal and dependent on the type of cancer, it’s essential to discuss any questions around sex and chemotherapy with your healthcare team before treatment. Remember, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about, and your team should create an environment that allows you to feel comfortable asking questions.

With that in mind, here are some factors to consider, tips for staying safe, and ways to manage feelings for both you and your partner.

There are many precautions you should take during chemotherapy treatment, including those related to sexual activity. Knowing when it’s safe to have sex after chemotherapy depends on various factors including your physical health, emotional well-being, and comfort level.

According to a 2014 article review, sex is generally considered safe during chemotherapy treatment as long as safe sex practices are in place. These include preventing pregnancy, protecting against infection, and avoiding exposing a partner to chemotherapy in bodily fluids like vaginal fluids or semen.

Ultimately, this is a decision you need to make with your doctor’s guidance. That being said, there are some things to consider when determining whether it’s safe to have sex during chemotherapy treatment.

Risk of infection

If you have low white blood cell counts or low platelet count from certain types of chemotherapy, you may need to refrain from having sex.

According to OncoLink, an educational site supported by oncology healthcare professionals, platelets below 50,000 puts you at an increased risk for infection or bleeding. If your blood platelet count is below 50,000, your doctor may advise against having sex, especially since platelets can protect against bleeding and bruising during sex.

Type of cancer

If you have cancer of the genital, urinary tract, or rectum, you may need extra time to heal before sexual penetration. In this situation, your doctor will determine when it’s safe for you to have sex.

Chance of pregnancy

According to the National Cancer Institute, chemotherapy can cause changes in eggs and sperm that could lead to birth defects, especially in the first 3 months of pregnancy. If you’re in a sexual relationship or plan on having sex while on chemotherapy, make sure to use birth control.

If you want to get pregnant after treatment, the American Cancer Society recommends talking with your doctor about how long you’ll need birth control after you finish chemotherapy.

Chemo treatments and your partner

It’s not known whether chemotherapy drugs can be passed to your partner through bodily fluids. Because of this, the recommendation is to use a condom for vaginal or anal sex or a dental dam for oral sex for at least 48 to 72 hours after treatment.

This can help prevent or at least minimize the passing of bodily fluids. If you’re in a sexual relationship, talk with your doctor about the safety of passing bodily fluids while receiving chemotherapy treatment.

Pain associated with sex

Chemotherapy and radiation can cause dyspareunia, a recurring pain within the pelvis or the genital area during sexual intercourse. Talk with a health professional about treatment options and how long this pain typically lasts.

Feelings associated with being sexually active

Even if you’re physically cleared to have sex, you may not feel up to it. This is true of your partner, too. Chemotherapy can cause fatigue and nausea. It may also impact your desire to be intimate.

Be kind to yourself and take it slow. Only have sex when you’re ready.

It’s not uncommon to feel less interested in having sex during this time. The good news? There are other things you can do to promote intimacy. Here’s a list of strategies and helpful tips for supporting your partner if they don’t feel like having sex during this time.

Talk with each other

The first way to support your partner is to have an open and honest conversation. Allow them time to share how they’re feeling, and ask what you can do to provide support. Then together, come up with some ideas to remain intimate without having sex.

Plan intimate activities that they enjoy

This may include snuggling while watching a movie together or holding hands while going for a walk.

Find new ways to show love

Use this time to find new ways — or rekindle old ways — of showing love to each other. Make it a point to hug and kiss more. Hold hands as often as you can, and cuddle when sitting by each other. If both people are up for it, bathe together or take turns giving each other a massage.

Your body goes through a tremendous amount of changes during treatment. While your energy may be focused on the physical changes required to get better, you may also be wondering how to cope with and manage the sexual changes that are occurring.

Talk with your doctor

One of the first things to try is talking with your doctor about what you’re feeling. They may have some resources for you or be able to refer you to someone who can help.

Consider individual therapy

Working with a psychologist or counselor specializing in cancer treatment or a sex therapist can provide a tremendous amount of support during this difficult time.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or too tired to leave the house, consider online therapy. There are some excellent platforms that provide counseling in a variety of areas.

Try couples counseling

Counseling is something you can do individually, as a couple, or both. Going to counseling with your partner can help with communication and generate ideas to be more intimate with each other.

If you identify as LGBTQIA+, it’s critical that you talk with your healthcare team about getting the correct information regarding sex while on chemotherapy. Discussing your sexual orientation, gender, or how you identify can help your doctor or another healthcare professional give you the support you need along the way.

If you feel that any member of your treatment team isn’t listening to your needs or concerns, or if you’re uncomfortable talking with them about this, there are resources that you can use that my help.

The Human Rights Campaign has some excellent resources like this one on coming out to your doctor. Also, the Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality, previously known as Gay & Lesbian Medical Association, has a “find a provider” tool that allows you to search for LGBTQIA+-friendly healthcare professionals.

Chemotherapy treatments can cause a temporary interruption in your sex life. The good news is with a few precautions, some new ways of expressing love and affection, and guidance from your doctor, you can resume this part of your life when you’re ready.

Make sure to talk with your doctor or healthcare team about having sex while on chemotherapy or if you’re experiencing any issues after resuming sexual activity.