Cancer Survivor: Can I Have an Intimate Relationship Again?

A reader wrote:

 I am 62, single, and once was a very sexually active woman. I’ve undergone treatment for breast cancer twice. My recovery required my full attention for years, but now I feel ready for new adventures — hopefully including sex. After rounds of chemotherapy, surgeries, radiation, and continued estrogen blocking medications, sex with another became a thing of the past. 

Currently, sexual intercourse may no longer be possible for me — but I still enjoy having orgasms and I desire the wonder of touch.
However, I am so concerned about my limitations as a sexual partner that I am afraid to attempt to date again. 

I have no idea what men in my age group expect or desire in terms of performance from their partners. What are woman experiencing in the 60-year-old dating world in terms of performance expectations? Would my current physical circumstance deter most men from being interested in exploring an intimate relationship with me?

I am grateful for this message and all it conveys about hope and healing and moving forward. I understand why you’re apprehensive. I would encourage you to get out there and go after what you want.

I know that many single men in our age group also fear “performance expectations”  when erections are no longer possible or predictable. There are many who would welcome a sexual partner who did not expect intercourse, who would be happy exchanging touch, oral and manual stimulation, and fabulous orgasms — without intercourse.

These men may be cancer survivors themselves, wanting to return fully to life, including sex and intimacy, but they don’t know how to navigate the dating world either — when to divulge the cancer, when to divulge the sexual issues.

You might find out if there’s a local cancer survivors’ singles group. Or try online dating: I did a search on “cancer survivors singles” and came up with several sites that promote themselves as dating sites for cancer survivors.

There’s even one — “2date4love” —  that “enables people who cannot engage in sexual intercourse to meet and experience love, companionship and intimacy.” I haven’t vetted any of these sites — if any of you have tried them, I hope you’ll share your experiences.

You don’t need to limit yourself to dating companions who share a similar medical history, though. Just be up front about your cancer on a first date if it looks like there’s potential for a second date. (If not, you don’t need to mention it.)

Then if you progress to a few dates and there’s chemistry, it’s important to explain that yes, you are interested in sex, but no, this might not include intercourse. Be prepared: Men who desire intercourse may want to discontinue getting to know you, and that’s okay.

When all the cards are on the table, if the relationship progresses, you have the delightful journey of exploring all the ways you can be sexual without intercourse!

Even when a date doesn’t progress to more, it’s still worth getting to know new people, “practicing” dating, trying out how to tell a potential partner about your needs, desires, and challenges.

If you take it all as part of the brave new world of dating experience, you don’t need to feel regretful or shamed when a new relationship (or potential relationship) doesn’t work out. Most of them will not work out — that’s the nature of the game.

Everything I’ve said so far presumed that you’re right that intercourse will not be possible for you. But please explore whether there are ways that you can heal yourself vaginally, if this is something you want to pursue. An excellent resource is “Vaginal Recuperation after Cancer or Surgery” from A Woman’s Touch, one of my favorite sexuality resource centers.

I hope you’ll check in again and share what you tried, how it worked for you, what you learned and gained.

I hope that you’ll share your thoughts, too, readers.


  1. Ms. Quote on January 1, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    I loved this piece!

    My brother was 35 and single when he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Before he went in for treatment, he banked some of his sperm "just in case." A few years later, he met the woman who would become his wife. They wound up having three gorgeous children without the help of backup.

    About 15 years ago, a friend of mine who was 52 had open heart surgery. After surgery, he worried if he could return his sex life and if women wouldn't be scared by or find the scar down the middle of his chest unattractive. I'm happy to say that after an early retirement a few years later and a move to Florida, he's quite happy and active!

  2. David Pittle on November 30, 2013 at 8:01 am

    Good reply, Joan. There is so much more than intromission (Penis in a vagina) Intercourse is such a wide playing field. She did not say why she is not receptive to intromission (Sometimes also called "Innercourse" to contrast with the coined word "Outercourse." But whatever the reason, there are so many options that a good partner will enjoy WITH her, that she can enjoy a full sex life. And while there are some narrow-minded guys, there are also many good men who will want to "play" with her.

  3. Anonymous on November 30, 2013 at 1:27 am

    Since I'm not single I can only imaging how I would handle the effects of my cancer treatment in a dating situation. Just as I can only imagine what if might be like to date someone who has fought cancer.

    As far as how cancer treatment and its side effects has affected my sex life, it took me much longer than I expected to begin recovering and feeling confident again. It also took me a long time to deal with the anger, frustration, and grief as a result of the prolonged impotence, the occasional stress incontinence during sex, and the pain that occurred with orgasm. But I remained a highly sexually focused person and I had to turn to other means of sexual expression – kissing, oral sex, caressing, anal play, self-stimulation, erotica, porn, etc. It also took me a long time to readjust and regain a feeling of passion – that magic of getting lost in each other, losing yourself to sensual stimulation alone. Thanks to the care of an amazing urology nurse it's only within the last year that things have vastly improved for me. My erections are more reliable now than before the surgery over eight years ago. I'm also starting pelvic floor therapy with the objective of easing, if not eliminating, the pain associated with orgasm. Right now, despite no longer having the ability to ejaculate (how do other women feel about feeling/seeing their lover ejaculate?), I'm feeling better about myself sexually than I have in a very long time.

  4. Anonymous on November 29, 2013 at 10:31 pm

    Wonderful article add usual, thanks Joan. 🙂 I recently linked to this site as a great resource for people, as part of my series of articles about emotionally safer sex: Thanks for such a great free resource! 🙂

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