Men who have erectile dysfunction (ED) often complain about the loss of sex, especially if ED is the result of cancer or other medical illness. There is good reason why this happens: men with ED typically withhold such gestures as giving kisses, holding hands, or even grabbing a feel in the kitchen. Partners notice this loss of affection and feel lonely and rejected, causing further humiliation and pressure on men to perform.
Although many men with ED have an attitude of “Why light a fire I can’t put out,” the truth is that ED does not have to interfere with caring and mutual pleasure. Here are some suggestions to help men and their partners restore intimacy after cancer:
Recognize when emotional withdrawal is occurring.
Many men view their erections the same way as their earning power: a visible proof of their manhood. When cancer or another illness takes away those abilities, many men feel ashamed and depressed. In our society, men are not encouraged to show “weakness,” so instead they may avoid talking or even act angry toward their partners. The first step in coping is to recognize when this is happening.
Remember that sexual problems can quickly become relationship problems.
Often when a couple is trying to cope with a major illness, it’s difficult to maintain the close connections that originally brought them together. The ability to cuddle, relax and laugh together is an important attribute of intimacy. Staying connected and responding as a team to the stresses of medical appointments and to sexual frustration requires honest communication. Talking out your feelings helps you to withstand any emotional turbulence.
Reach out to your partner, even if you are feeling bad about yourself.
If you disclose your fears, chances are that your partner will understand. Showing appreciation for your partner’s support during your illness is an important first step. Making your partner feel sexually desirable, even if you are having trouble with erections, is another way to show you care and are not just wrapped up in your own misery.
Consider having sex even if you don’t have a firm erection.
Many couples (especially people in their older years) see penetration and intercourse as the centerpiece of sex, or even as the only “normal” way to have sex. Yet couples can explore other kinds of touching to give each other pleasure or even to reach orgasm. You may believe your partner would be unwilling to have sex if it cannot end in intercourse, but have you even asked? If either you or your partner has religious concerns about the limits of sexual touching, consider seeking the advice of your clergy about these issues.
Sometimes an erection problem can make you a better lover!
Some men become better lovers when they stop focusing so much on whether or not their penis is hard. Think of ED as a chance to expand your sex life and make it more special. Show your partner the kinds of touching you enjoy most, and ask for guidance on what gives pleasure to your partner. Take your time and use romantic lighting or some seductive music to set the scene. Your ED may be the key to a happier sex life for both of you.
This educational material is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace, or substitute for, professional advice, counseling, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a condition. Never disregard professional advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read in this educational material.