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Rediscovering your sex life after prostate cancer

For the last 10 years, November has fondly been known as ‘Movember’, and men the world over have grown their moustaches in support of men’s health concerns, such as prostate cancer. But awareness is not just about growing a moustache and donating to charity. For those men diagnosed with prostate cancer, the effect on their sex life and relationship are often undervalued and underestimated; either by the men themselves, their partners, the doctors or everyone involved. If you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, know someone who has, or just need to know more, having the knowledge on how it can affect your sexual functioning and what you can do about it could make a massive difference.

For anyone being given the diagnosis of cancer, it’s a major blow. For any man, being given the diagnosis of prostate cancer doesn’t just mean all the complications that are associated with cancer and its treatment, but that the changes to their sex life and possibly relationships are some of the greatest challenges they will face. For men, sexual functioning is generally considered quite straightforward, and how well a man’s sexual organs work often contribute to his self-confidence and sexual prowess. Sex is physical and emotional, but the treatment for prostate cancer can affect the physical, leading to emotional repercussions for the man and often his partner. Treatment for prostate cancer can damage the blood flow and nerve endings that a man needs to get an erection, affect his libido, ability to climax, and his fertility. Not feeling like sex or being able to get an erection, or feeling anxious you may not be able to, can lead to not getting one! And the affect this can all have on a man’s relationship or confidence in getting in to a relationship can be equally distressing.

Overall, the effect on your sexual functioning will depend on several factors, such as any previous sexual dysfunctions, type of treatment needed, age etc. However, there are some things that any man can and should be doing to ensure recovery if they are diagnosed.

Do your Kegels: Kegel exercises (working out your pelvic floor) is not just something for the ladies. Men can do their Kegel’s too and it is really beneficial in terms of increasing erectile function and orgasmic control. To find your pelvic floor muscles, go to the bathroom and start urinating. Stop, and then start again. Those are your pelvic floor muscles working. You might also see your penis twitching after you climax, and again these are your pelvic floor muscles. You should aim to squeeze these muscles, hold for 5-10 seconds, and release them 10 times, once a day. Don’t overdo it though, as ultimately these are like any other muscles in your body and need a rest between workouts. Also, don’t do these exercises while your urinating as you could get an infection!

Use it or lose it: ‘on-demand’ sexual functioning is actually much easier if you are sexually active (either alone or with partners). The more you get erections, the more easily you’ll be able to get them. Climaxing regularly also means you can generally develop better control over your ejaculation. The American Urological Association also found that ejaculation reduces the risk of prostate cancer. So overall, this idea is important for any man, and especially if you’ve been diagnosed with prostate cancer. It’s crucial though to talk to your doctor about when and how you can attempt and resume sexual activity following treatment.

Talk about it, and always ask questions: Couples who talk about their sex life have been found to have more sex, and talking about it means you’ll be more comfortable to share your concerns with your partner if you are diagnosed with cancer. It’s absolutely imperative that you not shy away from any questions about your sexual functioning with any doctor. Ask any and all questions – there is nothing that they haven’t heard before or can’t explore with you. It’s also a foundation to keeping the conversation open in your relationship, which often gets impacted by the experiences and side effects associated with such a diagnosis.

About Catriona Boffard

Catriona Boffard

Catriona Boffard is a Sexologist, Cognitive-Behavioural Therapist, Sexuality Researcher & Educator and Author. She is a globally recognized authority on sex, and has delivered her expert advice on TV, radio, corporate and public platforms. She is an expert in the field of sexual behaviour and well-being, with a particular interest in helping couples reestablish their sexual intimacy and empowering women to embrace their sexuality. She works from a biopsychosocial perspective; assessing and treating clients through an integrative approach which explores the physiological, psychological and social factors behind their concerns.

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