Sex is often a big part of our lives, whether we’re comfortable admitting it or not. It provides pleasure, releases stress, and can help to create a deeper intimacy with a partner.
So, it’s entirely normal to be concerned about a stem cell transplant affecting your sex life. But it’s also entirely normal to feel awkward and a bit embarrassed talking about this topic with anyone, from a partner to a medical professional. It’s personal, after all.
That’s why we’re here, and we’re so pleased you are too. It’s great that you’re looking for information and support on this topic.
We’re going to be frank yet sensitive on the topic of sex and stem cell transplants, and give you the tools, information and support to feel empowered to take control of your sex life and relationships.
So, let’s start with the big question…
Yes, having a stem cell transplant may affect your sex life, both physically and emotionally. In fact, approximately half of all stem cell transplant patients experience issues with their sex life after transplant. You may experience some post-transplant side effects which can cause sex to be painful or a bit awkward, and you might feel anxious.
Here are the main difficulties you may find between 6-12 months after your stem cell transplant:
Your transplant team will provide you with the best possible treatments based on your medical situation. It’s likely that your treatment plan will include a combination of the following medications:
Your transplant team will know your situation best, and can give you personalised advice on when it’s safe to have sex after your transplant. Generally, the consensus will be that you can have sex when you’re comfortable enough to.
There is no right or wrong time to feel ready to have sex again after your stem cell transplant. Everyone is different. It is entirely up to you and how you are feeling. Nobody should pressure you into having sex before you’re ready.
You’ll have been through a whirlwind of emotions and changes post-transplant. Your body has been through a lot! From hair loss and weight changes, to having a central venous catheter (CVC) inserted, there is a lot to deal with both physically and emotionally. It’s common to struggle with this, and to feel unsexy after transplant. You can find more information and support on body image after transplant in our Recovery: Mind section.
Give yourself time to feel comfortable in your body again before you think of having sex. Feeling confident and empowered in yourself and your body is the most important thing. Many patients talk about their sexual desire returning as their recovery progresses. Try to be patient and kind with yourself. You are still you, and your body is still fantastic.
It’s a great idea to start slowly when you want to start having sex again, both for mental and physical reasons. Perhaps you could:
I feel awkward talking about sex with my transplant team
Talking about sex with anyone, even a partner or friends, can feel awkward and embarrassing. Thankfully, medical professionals are very used to having these kinds of conversations. They’re trained in this, so there will be no embarrassment on their end. They’ll want what’s best for you, and knowing exactly how you’re feeling will help.
Usually taking the first step is the hardest part, so let’s come up with a plan:
Having sex and talking about sex are two very different things. No matter how long you’ve been together or how close you are, talking about such a personal topic with your partner can feel awkward. That’s ok.
It’s important to chat about your sex life, both to navigate any physical side effects and to acknowledge any worries. A great sex life comes with great communication! Your partner will want the best for you, and could well be worried about this too.
It all begins with taking that first step. Let’s come up with another plan:
Fertility is also a big topic which can be sensitive to talk about before and after stem cell transplant. But it’s a necessary one to have with your partner and transplant team. You can read more about this topic on our Bigger Issues page.
Dating can be nerve-wracking at the best of times, let alone after going through a stem cell transplant. You’ve been through a lot and may have lost some confidence. It’s very normal to be nervous.
There’s no right time to date again after transplant. You should only date again when you feel ready to, and should work on your own relationship with yourself first and foremost.
If you want to date again but are anxious, how about going about it in one of these ways?
It’s entirely up to you what you tell new people about what you’ve been through, and when you tell them.
There might not be an obvious time to bring it up with a new partner, but it’s probably best to talk about your history before things get too serious. This is especially important if you have concerns in areas like fertility. Follow the steps above to help you have these conversations.
If you feel comfortable with this person and trust them to be supportive, it can help to tell them. And if their response isn’t supportive, they’re probably not the right person for you. A loving partner will accept you for who you are and will want to work through any issues. Don’t settle for less than you deserve.