Body image, sex and intimacy for women with a new diagnosis

Our information and support can help you manage changes to your body image and sexual activity after diagnosis and treatment of ovarian cancer.

Identity and body image

Dealing with an altered body image can be particularly difficult after an ovarian cancer diagnosis. You may have surgical scars, or now have a stoma, you may have experienced menopause as a result of your surgery, have gained or lost weight or be facing the temporary loss of your hair.

Meeting other women who have experienced this can be helpful:

•    Join our online community
•    Find a support group near you
•    Attend one of our support events
•    Read about other women's experiences

More support

Some oncology units have volunteers who can give advice about putting on makeup and scarves. Look Good Feel Better is a charity that offers makeup workshops and resources to people after cancer treatment. You can also ask your Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS, a specially trained nurse involved in your care and treatment who may also be called your key worker) about the support that is available in your area. 

Sex and intimacy 

With a partner

Sex might be the last thing on your mind if you’ve just received your diagnosis. It may take a while before you're ready to restart your sex life, particularly if you've had major surgery. For some people having sex during this time can help them feel cared for, loved and secure. You may just want a cuddle at this time. Physical contact with a partner can release certain chemicals in your brain and make you feel good, so whether it’s a cuddle, a kiss or more it might help you to manage stress.

For some people, being sexual again after treatment is a sign that life is getting back to normal. But it may require a bit more time and effort than it did before your cancer treatment. You may have to reassure your partner that you want to try having sex or touching each other sexually. Sex can help you feel connected to your partner and give you a boost of pleasure so, if it’s something you feel you want, it's worth having a go.

On your own

Enjoying our bodies is not just for those with a partner. We can make ourselves feel good by touching our bodies and loving ourselves. There's nothing wrong with masturbation at any time of life and when you're living with cancer, this may help you cope. It may also help you feel that you ‘own’ your body. After having had doctors and nurses examine you, touching yourself may be comforting and help you reconnect with your body. Getting to know your body again is important as it may feel different if you have had surgery. Make sure you know the new normal for you.

If there's a problem

Sometimes people have difficulties having sex again. This happens to lots of women and your CNS will be happy to speak to you about any concerns that you might have. Sometimes talking about it or taking a little bit of time is all that's needed.

Some people like to talk to a sex therapist. This is usually a psychologist who is specially trained to help you with issues to do with sex. There should be a sex therapist (psychosexual counsellor) available to you in your area through your local NHS. You can ask your CNS or GP to refer you if you think this would be helpful. You may feel shy, but sex is an important area of many people’s lives. It can help both you and your partner move past what you have been through and give you both a sense of being a team again. 

If you're experiencing vaginal dryness or painful sex following treatment, you may benefit from using a vaginal moisturiser or lubricant. Your CNS will be able to give you more information about this. You should be able to find a large variety of lubricants quite easily on the shelves of the larger chemists. 

Resources

  • Listen to our ovarian cancer, sex and intimacy podcast or read the transcript [PDF], where we answer your questions, talk about what physical and emotional issues you may face and discuss how you can seek help and support.
  • Our Ovarian cancer, sex and intimacy guide [PDF] answers your questions about the impact of an ovarian cancer diagnosis on your sexuality, sex life and relationships. It includes information about what physical and emotional issues you may face and how you can seek help and support. 

Last reviewed: January 2021

To learn more about our review process, take a look at our information standards.