Sexuality for the Man With Cancer

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Dealing with sexual problems

What to expect

It’s hard to know what will happen to any one person. For example, one man’s erections may come back after radical prostatectomy while another man’s may not. But if you do have a sexual problem, your health care team can often find the cause and give you an idea of your chance for recovery.

One clue that a problem is a medical one and one that may not go away is if it happens in all situations. Otherwise, it may be psychological and short-term. For example, if you have trouble getting or keeping an erection, does it happen every time you have sex? Are your erections better when you relax, when you stimulate your own penis, or when you unexpectedly see someone attractive? If you have a few partners, are your erections better with one of them than with the others?

Dealing with short-term problems

As men age or go through health changes, it’s common that feelings of sexual excitement no longer lead to an instant erection. You may just need more time and stroking to get aroused.

If you have trouble reaching orgasm during sex, you may not have found the right kind of touching. You might even think about buying a hand-held electric vibrator. A vibrator can give very intense stimulation. Try having a sexual fantasy or looking at erotic stories or pictures. The more excited you are, the easier it is to reach orgasm.

A number of men have their first orgasms after cancer treatment while asleep, during a sexual dream. If this happens to you, it’s proof that you are physically able to have an orgasm. It’s also helpful if your partner notices that you have erections during sleep. Because sleep erections aren’t affected by mood or state of mind, they give you an idea of the best erection your body can produce. Now it’s up to you to set things in motion when you are awake.

Finding the cause of problems that appear to be permanent

The best time to talk with your doctor or cancer team about side effects or long-term changes in your sex life is before treatment, so that you know what to expect and can learn about the usual recovery and how long it takes. But you can bring up the subject any time during and after treatment, too. If you did not discuss sexual side effects before treatment, it’s best to do so soon after your treatment. This way your doctor can help you find the cause of the problem and develop a plan to help you deal with it.


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