Being diagnosed with any kind of cancer can be a devastating experience, but can you start to think about sex again after treatment?

For men, a testicular or prostate cancer diagnosis and the treatment of those cancers can lead to so many questions about their sex lives. We spoke to Dr Becky Spelman who is a relationship expert at We-Vibe who explained to us male cancers can be an emotional blow and can have a deep impact on the sex lives of survivors.

She told us,

“Engaging with our sex life after a serious illness is always a challenge—and it’s even trickier after treatment for a condition such as prostate or testicular cancer.  Survivors of prostate or testicular cancer may feel like they are “less of a man”, and this can pose a significant emotional blow, which can impact seriously on their sex life. They might feel unattractive, or that the illness was their fault, for some reason they don’t understand and can’t articulate. It’s important to understand that the illness is no one’s fault. Anyone can get sick. Take the time you need to engage with the emotional as well as the physical side of the healing process, and attend a professional therapist, or group therapy, if you feel it will help”.

Things after cancer change

Men who survive cancer can find problems with maintaining erections. Dr Becky explains,

“Survivors of these kinds of cancer may have to live with the reality of a very different sex life than the one they had before. Many men will now be unable to maintain an erection. While this can mean the end of penetrative sex, it doesn’t have to mean the end of all sex, forever. Lots of sex acts don’t involve penetration—and, of course, there’s nothing to prevent a post-operative man from being the receptive partner in lovemaking. An open mind, and the willingness to experiment will open up possibilities that you might never have considered before.

Men who have had prostate cancer, can continue to have anal sex, but the charity, Prostate Cancer UK warns, “Some men who receive anal sex find that after having their prostate removed their experience of sex changes.

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“Bowel problems and sensitivity in the anus after radiotherapy can also be an issue. It’s best to wait until your symptoms have settled before trying anal play or sex. If you’ve had permanent seed brachytherapy there is a risk in the first few months that your partner might be exposed to some radiation during sex. Talk to your doctor or nurse about when it’s safe to have sex.”

Acceptance

“People in recovery from serious illness can be horrified to find themselves struggling with negative emotions such as resentment. They may feel that it’s not fair that they got sick when others, who perhaps have less healthy lifestyles, are just fine. While these are not noble emotions, they are understandable.

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Rather than ignoring them or pushing them below the surface, you need to accept that they are there, and find a way to manage them. There’s lots of help out there for people recovering from serious illness. People can and do recover from the trauma of illness all the time—and rebuild healthy sex lives in the process”.