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Being diagnosed with cancer can have an enormous impact on you, both physically and emotionally, as well as your relationships with those around you. This can be especially true for sexual and romantic relationships, as these may involve the people closest to you.
Whatever your relationship status, life after cancer is a big adjustment, and it’s very normal to feel vulnerable or afraid. Your experience may have changed how you feel about yourself, your sexual identity and your body image, and may also have altered your plans for the future – such as starting or growing your family.
We hope this information can help you explore any impact on dating or an existing relationship. If you have a partner, you may want to suggest you both read it together or separately.
On this page:
Firstly, remember that you’ve been through a lot together recently. Getting through a cervical cancer diagnosis and treatment is tough, on both you and your partner, so it’s only natural if you feel like your relationship has changed since you were diagnosed.
Often everything moves very quickly from cancer diagnosis straight into treatment, so it’s common to feel like you haven’t really had a moment to stop and think about anything. This may hit you hard once treatment is over and there’s a lot to come to terms with all at once. If you’re still in this phase of recovery, you might find that you’re more withdrawn from your partner, or that you’re leaning on them for support more than usual.
- Nicole, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2019
For some couples, you may feel the challenges you’ve faced have brought you closer together, while for others cancer can put a huge strain on your relationship. The loss of your fertility, in particular, can be a deep source of grief for both you and your partner. Recognise that these changes would be difficult for anyone to deal with, and give yourselves time to process and work through all the complex and mixed emotions you might be feeling.
We have more information about changes to fertility and relationships, which you may find helpful to read. It includes suggestions for communicating with your partner and other tips from our community.
Even the most loving and supportive partner will find it difficult to understand exactly what you’re going through, so make sure you keep communicating. This might be as simple as saying, “I really appreciate your support, but I need some time and space to myself while I deal with this”. Or it might be a more in-depth conversation about your thoughts and feelings. Have a bit of patience if they say or do the wrong thing, and let them know if there’s anything in particular they can do to help.
Sometimes it can be difficult to communicate with a partner about something so personal and outside of their experience. If you are struggling or don’t know where to begin, it might help to take some time to explore only your thoughts first. You might consider seeing a counsellor who specialises in supporting couples, and inviting your partner into that space once you know what you want to communicate. Equally, you could suggest your partner reads this information or has a separate conversation with a counsellor, so they have space to explore their feelings too.
Even without a cancer diagnosis, 2020 has been a strange and difficult time. During lockdown you and your partner may have found yourselves stuck at home together more than usual. While you may have enjoyed the extra time together, you may also both have been juggling working from home, childcare or other caring responsibilities, as well as managing your own health. All of these things add their own pressures at an already challenging time.
If you’ve been shielding, you may also have felt isolated from your wider support network and had to rely on your partner for more help. Sex and intimacy may have been the last thing on your mind, particularly if you’ve struggled with your body and sexuality since undergoing cancer treatment.
Whatever position you’re in, communication is key to strengthening your relationship and moving forwards together – both in your everyday life and in the bedroom. Talk to your partner about how you’re feeling, and what you want or need from them. It’s very normal to have concerns about restarting sex after cervical cancer treatment. When and how you choose to do so depends entirely on what feels right for you.
Although being physically intimate with a partner can be a very important part of a relationship, remember that penetrative sex isn’t the be all and end all of intimacy. It’s absolutely fine to start slow, perhaps incorporating massage or other erotic touching, and build up. Above all, keep the lines of communication open so you both know where you stand.
You may feel you would benefit from expert support with physical issues to do with sex. In this case, your GP or clinical nurse specialist (CNS) may be able to refer you to a specialist.
It may also be useful to talk through any emotional difficulties with a counsellor, either with or without your partner present. This can help to you process the changes to your body and your relationship, and find safe, manageable ways to move forwards at a pace that feels comfortable.
Meeting someone new after a cervical cancer diagnosis can be difficult at any time, and now there is the added challenge of the coronavirus pandemic. Safety measures, such as social distancing and local restrictions, may make it harder to physically meet new people, as well as increasing the amount of time spent chatting online or over the phone. However, you might see this as a positive – it could allow you to get to know each other at a slower pace and wait until you’re ready before becoming physically intimate.
The question of when to talk about your experiences with cervical cancer is never an easy one. Added to that, the coronavirus pandemic may have disrupted your previous ideas about when and how to raise the subject.
Everyone is different, and there is no right or wrong way to go about this. You may choose to tell your new love interest straight away, or prefer to wait until you feel more comfortable and intimately connected. Talking it through with a trusted friend, relative or healthcare professional can help you to work out your own personal boundaries.
When it comes to getting physical with someone new, take time to think about what feels right for you. Be honest with your new partner about how you feel and anything they can do to help. Most importantly, don’t feel under pressure to be sexual before you are ready.
If you need emotional support around starting a new sexual relationship, speak to your GP or CNS. You might also find it helpful to check out our relationships forum for advice from others who have been there.
If you’re struggling with physical issues around sex with someone new, we have more detailed information that covers topics including painful sex, lack of sex drive and orgasm.
Relationships are deeply personal and individual so, whether you are thinking about dating or in an established partnership, it’s important to figure out what you want and need at this time. If some expert support would help with this, it is best to speak with your GP or CNS. We also have a page dedicated to suggestions for getting support.
Our 1:1 service offers a private way to get support over email, phone call or by text. Although we can’t offer relationship counselling, we can talk through your personal situation, as well as helping you process your feelings and think about next steps. We also welcome partners to use our 1:1 service, so if you are a partner reading this or think yours would benefit from some extra support, get in touch.
Sometimes connecting with others who have gone through a similar experience can be helpful. Our online Forum lets our community give and get support. It even has a section dedicated to relationships. You can read through the messages or post your own – whichever feels most comfortable.
If you have general questions about relationships or sex after cervical cancer, our panel of medical experts may be able to help. They can’t give you answers about your individual situation or health – it’s best to speak with your GP or healthcare team for that.
We also host events for people affected by cervical cancer, including partners, where relationships and sex are often talked about. It can give you a chance to hear from others in the same position, as well as from experts who can share their tips for managing any changes to your relationships.
If you aren’t sure where to start, you can give our free Helpline a call on 0808 802 8000. Our trained volunteers can talk through your options or just listen to what’s going on.