Sex and Men With Cancer: Overview

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Finding professional help for sexual problems during and after cancer treatment

The first step in finding help for a sexual problem is to talk to your doctor. If your cancer specialist can’t help you, ask your family doctor or another member of your health care team. They should be able to suggest a counselor who’s an expert in sexual problems.

Sex therapy

Sex therapy is a brief type of counseling focused on solving sex problems. Sex therapists believe that sexual skills are learned. You may need to drop old approaches and learn new ones. Between visits, a sex therapist may give you homework to help you feel closer to your partner and enjoy touching more.

Sex therapists may practice in a clinic or alone. Because most states have no laws about “sex therapists,” people with no training can call themselves sex therapists. Be sure your sex therapist is a licensed mental health professional (psychiatrist, social worker, clinical nurse specialist, nurse practitioner, or psychologist) with special training in sex therapy. It’s not always easy to find a well-trained sex therapist. It’s OK to ask what education and license they have before you make an appointment.

A professional society, such as the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT), can give you information about their members who have special training in sex therapy. You can also get a listing of professionals in your area by contacting your state’s psychological association, a chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), or a state association for licensed marriage and family therapists. (See the “To learn more about other topics related to sex and cancer” section for contact information.)

What to avoid

Men and women often try to get help for sex problems by going to someone who’s not a health professional. Sexual problems are so upsetting that people will try all kinds of things. There’s no evidence that any of the following can cure a sex problem, but they’re often said to be cures: potency pills (such as “poppers” or “Spanish fly”), oysters, hypnotism by someone not trained as a mental health professional, or visits to a “sexual surrogate.”

Herbs and supplements: Many herbs or supplements are sold over the counter as “natural” cures for erection problems. But they have not been proven to help men have erections. And many have been found to contain things other than what’s listed on their labels. Some supplements contain prescription drugs that can be very risky because you don’t know what you’re taking.

There are many more unproven remedies. These treatments have not been shown to work, and many can be harmful. Be sure to talk to your doctor about anything you want to try before you spend any time or money on it.

Other kinds of counseling

Sex therapy is not the only kind of counseling that can help a person with cancer. A good therapist can

  • Help you feel better about the changes in your body
  • Make it easier for you and your partner to talk about difficult subjects
  • Give you skills to better cope with the cancer

Finding a well-qualified mental health professional is important. Ask your doctor or your cancer team for names. The cost of counseling varies with the professional’s training. Before you start, you might want to call your health insurance plan to see what they’ll cover.

Other specialists

A man with sexual problems may choose to see a urologist first. This is a medical doctor trained in diseases of the male genitals. Many urologists do surgery and offer medical treatments for erection problems.

When the most likely cause of a sexual problem is a change in hormones, you may need to see a doctor called an endocrinologist. Usually your regular doctor or urologist can help you decide if an endocrinologist is needed.

Last Medical Review: 08/28/2014
Last Revised: 09/23/2014