Can Multiple Myeloma Affect Your Sex Life?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

If you’ve been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, you likely have a lot on your mind.

You may be thinking about booking appointments, tests, and treatments. You could be reflecting on how cancer may change your life. You may feel worried or stressed. Maybe you’re busy learning more about your diagnosis and options.

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It’s possible you’re also thinking about how cancer will affect your sex life. You may have already noticed some changes since you were diagnosed. Or maybe sex is the last thing on your mind right now.

After a diagnosis of multiple myeloma, it’s normal to experience changes in your sex life. This can be related to the emotional or physical changes from cancer or its treatments.

For many, a healthy sex life is an important part of feeling like yourself. Here’s how multiple myeloma can affect your sex life and what you can do about it.

How can multiple myeloma affect your sex life?

Multiple myeloma can affect your sex life in many ways. Some people completely lose interest in sex. Other people crave the connection that comes from intimacy.

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Many people diagnosed with multiple myeloma experience these types of changes. Some are related to physical changes that come with the diagnosis. Others are emotional factors.

It’s not something you should feel guilty about. This is not your fault.

Here are some ways that multiple myeloma can affect your sex life:

  • Physical changes. It can be hard to be intimate if you’re in pain, feeling self- conscious about how cancer has affected your body, or feeling tired or nauseous.
  • The emotional toll of cancer. If you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed, it can reduce your interest in sex.
  • Side effects of medication. Some multiple myeloma treatments come with side effects that can make it harder to maintain an erection. Others may cause vaginal dryness or painful intercourse.
  • Other health conditions. Conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes may affect sexual function. Multiple myeloma can make it harder to manage those conditions. Combined, they may have a greater impact on your sex life.
  • Relationship changes. Many people find that cancer can change their relationships. Maybe your partner isn’t sure whether you’re interested in having sex or being intimate. Partners themselves may feel stressed out about your diagnosis.

Strategies to help boost your sex life

You should not feel guilty about changes in your sex life. This is not your fault.

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Addressing the underlying source behind your sexual disinterest can help revive your sex life. Start with these steps.

Coping with fatigue

Fatigue is common when you have multiple myeloma. This fatigue goes beyond normal levels of tiredness. It can make it hard to get through your day, let alone think about having sex.

Fatigue can be caused by a number of things, such as:

  • side effects of the cancer itself or its treatments
  • sleep difficulties
  • chronic pain
  • trouble eating enough
  • iron deficiency anemia

If you’re experiencing fatigue, here are some tips that may help:

  • Plan time to rest during your day.
  • Limit naps to 30 minutes or less so they don’t interfere with nighttime sleep.
  • Try to eat something every 2 to 4 hours during the day.
  • Try relaxation or meditation to reduce stress.
  • Fit some gentle activity like walking, stretching, or yoga into your day.
  • Talk with your doctor about pain management strategies.
  • Schedule regular blood work to monitor iron levels and take supplements if needed.
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If fatigue is interfering with your sex life, do your best to prioritize the energy that you do have. Ask for help with things like groceries, cooking, yard work, and pet care if you can. Delegate these tasks to save your energy for things you actually want to do, like having sex.

There may be a time of the day that you have more energy. Consider resting before sex to give yourself a bit more energy.

If you just don’t have the energy for sex, find other ways to stay connected with your partner.

Dealing with stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety are common with cancer. It’s normal to lose interest in sex when your mental health isn’t at its best.

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Try these strategies to help you cope with stress and anxiety:

  • Mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness helps to keep your thoughts in the present moment. Try focusing on your breathing or using guided meditation.
  • Deep breathing. Deep breathing is a powerful but simple way to ground yourself. Try breathing in deeply through your nose to the count of four. Then breathe out even more slowly through pursed lips.
  • Support groups. Connecting with other people who understand what you’re going through is a reminder that you’re not alone.
  • Counseling. Working with a therapist or mental health counselor is another way to get support to improve your mental health. These experts can provide you with strategies to cope.
  • Activity. Moving your body can help you manage stress. It doesn’t need to be intense. A gentle walk around the block or through the park can boost your mood.
Dealing with physical changes

Physical changes can be related to the cancer itself or its treatments. Your body may change in unexpected ways. This can impact how you see and feel about yourself. You may also worry about how your partner sees you.

Some changes you may notice include:

  • changes in your body size or shape
  • digestive symptoms as diarrhea, constipation, or nausea
  • pain

Talk with your partner about how you’re feeling. It can be helpful for them to understand how physical changes are impacting your interest in sex.

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Other modifications may also help. Dietary changes or medications can help with digestive challenges. A referral to a pain clinic can support you with pain management. Certain pain medications, like opioids, may also affect your sex drive. Make sure to communicate your concern to any pain management professionals you speak with.

Support groups can be a great resource for learning strategies to cope with the physical changes you’re going through.

Communicate with your partner

Cancer can affect any relationship. Open communication is important. Take time to talk with your partner about how you’re both feeling. Everyone has different needs and expectations when it comes to sex.

If it’s hard to talk about, consider working with a counselor. Many couples go through counseling to help navigate a cancer diagnosis together.

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Remember that there are other ways to be intimate. Consider these other ways to stay connected:

  • cuddling
  • holding hands
  • massage
  • kissing and hugging
  • showering or having a bath together
  • enjoying a candlelit dinner together
  • spending time together doing something you both enjoy

Be clear about what you need or want when it comes to intimacy. Keep the conversation open so both you and your partner can continue to express your needs and desires.

When to talk with your doctor

Your doctor may ask if you have any concerns about sex. If they don’t, speak up.

For starters, ask your doctor if it’s safe for you to have sex. There may be risks associated with sex when white blood cell counts are low. Certain types of chemotherapy may require precautions to protect your partner.

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It may feel uncomfortable to talk with your doctor about sex, but it’s an important part of your health. Your healthcare team wants to help you feel better. If it’s important to you, it will be important to your doctor.

There is nothing wrong with you if you’re just not interested in sex right now. It’s possible that your desire and interest in sex will return with time.

If you notice physical changes to your sexual function, talk with your doctor. These may include difficulty getting or keeping an erection or vaginal dryness. Your doctor can help.

If you’re having difficulty with your mental health, tell your doctor. Together, you can figure out if medications or therapy may help you to feel more like yourself. Your doctor can refer you to a sex therapist if that’s something you’re interested in.

The takeaway

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Multiple myeloma can affect your sex life in many ways. You may notice changes in your body or your mood. Symptoms like pain or fatigue may leave you disinterested in sex.

Talk openly with your partner about how you’re feeling. If you just aren’t interested in sex right now but are missing intimacy, there are other ways to feel close.

Some people find it uncomfortable to talk about, but sex is normal and healthy. If you are concerned about your sex life, make sure to talk with your doctor.

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