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Sex after chemo feels different

Why is sex painful after chemo or radiation?


Pain with vaginal penetration is called dyspareunia and occurs with more than just penis-vagina sexual intercourse. It can occur when anything is inserted into the vagina including a finger, tampon, or speculum. With dyspareunia, pain can occur at the opening or deep inside the vagina. It is often described as burning, stabbing, poking, or hitting a wall and can last only during the activity or continue for hours or days afterwards.


Many people who have gone through chemotherapy and/or radiation to the pelvic area also report vaginal dryness. This is in part due to the medications and partly due to the tissue healing from radiation.



Vaginal dryness or vaginal tissue thinning can be a side effect of treatment for cancer. Using a vaginal moisturizer without hormones in it is typically the safest option. When vaginal dryness or thinning of tissue leads to dyspareunia, the treatment can begin with something as simple as adding a lubricant or moisturizer to your sexual activities.


Vaginal canal narrowing from treatment of cancer can also cause dyspareunia. Vaginal canal narrowing can be a side effect of scar tissue, adhesions, or radiation fibrosis. A pelvic health PT can work with you on understanding your anatomy, the physiology of sex, and resolving physical causes of pain. Dilators and manual therapy are often used as part of therapy for people who experience this type of dyspareunia.



Please don’t let pain with sex stop you from having a healthy enjoyable sex life. Help is available. If you have any questions or would like further recommendations on lubricants, professional help with mental health services, or pelvic health physical therapy, give us a call, text, or email, and we’ll be happy to help you find the treatment that’s right for you to have a healthy, (unwanted) pain-free sex life. The team at The Fit Pelvis want to support you on your journey.


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