Sexuality for the Man With Cancer

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Feeling good about yourself and feeling good about sex

In the US, especially in the media, sex is all too often viewed as something only for the young and healthy. Sex appeal is judged by some as a skin-deep sort of beauty rather than something based on love, kindness, maturity, or a sense of humor. Based on looks alone, most people may not feel all that attractive to start with. And after being treated for cancer, their self-esteem can often fall even further.

After cancer treatment, it’s very easy to focus only on the part of the body that has been affected. For example, a man who has had a laryngectomy may fear he will not be able to find another partner because he has lost his voice.

Sometimes friends and lovers do withdraw emotionally from a person with cancer. This may not be because of how the person looks, but be caused by some feelings or thoughts in the person who’s doing the looking. When one partner can’t bear to look at the other’s ostomy bag, for instance, it may be a sign of much deeper feelings. Maybe they’re angry because they have to take over their partner’s usual tasks of paying bills and doing household repairs. Or the ostomy may remind one partner of how sad they would feel if the other person died. It may be easier not to love that person so much. A partner may even be more aware of their own mortality, which can be upsetting, too. Yet all these feelings get blamed on a stoma that mars a small part of one partner’s body. The “well” partner also may feel like a failure and know that they’re letting down the partner who’s had cancer at a time when they are most needed.

Don’t give up on each other. It may take time and effort, but keep in mind that sexual touching between a man and his partner is always possible. It may be easy to forget this, especially if you’re both feeling down or have not had sex for a while. Review the “Keeping your sex life going despite cancer treatment” section for some tips to help you and your partner through this time. Also try the suggestions we make here to help you through some of the changes that cancer may have brought to your life, your self-esteem, and your relationships. And keep in mind that you may need extra help with the changes caused by cancer that can turn your and your partner’s lives upside down. See the “Professional help” section for more information.

Last Medical Review: 08/19/2013
Last Revised: 08/19/2013