Whether you are single, in a relationship, heterosexual, gay, bisexual or transgender, cancer can affect your sexuality in both physical and emotional ways. The impact of these changes depends on many factors, such as the cancer treatment and its side effects, how you and your partner communicate, and your level of self-confidence.
The importance of sexual activity for a man before prostate cancer will influence how changes to his sex life affect him (and his partner, if he has one) after treatment. Some men link their sense of masculinity with their sex drive, making adjusting to changes difficult. Others might feel they have lost a part of themselves or may question their self-worth.
For many people, a relationship based on trust and understanding is an important part of a satisfying, intimate sexual experience.
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Communicating with a new partner
Deciding when to tell a potential sexual partner about your cancer experience isn’t easy. Some single men may avoid dating for fear of rejection.
While the timing will be different for each person, it can be helpful to wait until you and your new partner have developed a mutual level of trust and caring. However, it is best to talk with a new partner about your concerns before becoming sexually intimate. By communicating openly, you avoid misunderstandings and may find that your partner is more accepting and supportive.
Managing changes in your sex life
- Talk about the changes and your feelings about sex. If you have a partner, these changes will probably affect you both. Reassure them that intimacy is still important to you.
- Be intimate without having sexual intercourse. Other ways of expressing love include touching, holding, caressing and massage.
- Take time to get used to any changes. Look at yourself naked in the mirror and touch your genitals to feel any differences or soreness. Show your partner the changes so they can adjust to them.
- Take things slowly. Start by touching each other’s skin, then include genital touching.
- Attempt intercourse even with a partial erection. This stimulation may encourage further and better erections.
- Explore your ability to enjoy sex and understand any changes by masturbating.
- Ask your partner to be gentle, as the genital area may be tender. Use silicone-based lubricants for prolonged stimulation. Practise reaching orgasm through methods such as hand-stroking.
- Try different positions to find out what feels comfortable for both of you. Having sex while kneeling or standing may also help with erections.
- Talk to your doctor, a sexual health physician or counsellor if the changes are causing depression or problems in your relationship.
- Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for more information or see Sexuality, intimacy and cancer.
- Read Understanding Sexual Issues Following Prostate Cancer Treatment from the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (prostate.org.au or 1800 22 00 99).