Talking about Sexuality and Intimacy When You’re Living with a Serious Illness

People living with a serious illness often have questions and concerns about sexuality and intimacy. But intimacy and sexuality aren’t always noticed by the people who treat you. Discussing how your illness has affected your relationships may help you open the door to the conversation if your health care team doesn’t bring it up first.

Studies suggest that patients want to discuss sexuality and intimacy and want their health care providers to bring up this topic. Even so, many health care providers have trouble communicating about these subjects. Why? Health care providers may feel they lack the training to start the conversation. They may be concerned about being able to address your questions and concerns accurately. But these issues are critical to your quality of life, and someone has to start the conversation.

How you can start the conversation about sexuality and intimacy

Consider asking yourself the following questions. They can help you take control. The answers can help you start the conversation with your health care team:

  • How has my illness affected my relationships?
  • How has my illness affected intimacy?
  • Do I have worries or concerns regarding sex? (e.g., fear of low libido, etc.)
  • What does intimacy means to me, and how has that changed over the course of my illness?
  • Should I discuss any of this with other members of my health care team?

These questions can help you start a conversation during a palliative care visit or any other visit with your health care team. Palliative care is specialized medical care focused on treating the symptoms and stress of serious illness. The whole goal is to improve your quality of life.

Perhaps start the conversation by telling your doctor or other providers about the effect of your illness has on your relationships. Talking about this with your providers can be helpful, and they may have suggestions you can consider. Then you can move the conversation on from there by bringing up your other concerns.

About is an online resource for patients and families that focuses solely on providing information on palliative care from the point of diagnosis. At you can take a short quiz to see whether you or a loved one could benefit from palliative care. The site is provided by the Center to Advance Palliative Care.