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Preserving Your Sexy after Cancer

Cancer treatment is a lot of things, but “sexy” is not one of them. Some of the treatment side-effects can be a big blow to your sex life, such as: low libido, erectile dysfunction, premature and retrograde ejaculation, poor appetite and diet, anxiety and depression, and diminished body image. I’m just going to say it: this sucks. It just does. But here is the thing; it is not going to be like this forever. Seriously. If you put in the work to re-conceptualize your sex life or “build your new sexy swagger”, all of your sexual hiccups will become a distant memory.

Sex is More Than Penetration
Expand your definition of sex, guys. Don’t get me wrong, penetrative sex is awesome and is the most common form of sexual behavior among US adults. However, one of the main purposes of having sex is to experience pleasure, and penetration is not the only way to get your “feels on”. An erection is NOT a requirement to have an orgasm or to be a “boss” in the bedroom. I know, right? Experiment with mapping your pleasure outside of the genitals and developing your erotic sensibilities with different types of touch and sexual play. Start building a list of things, actions, or smells that turn you on; and if you are partnered, clue your partner in on what you like. Don’t try something new just for the sake of trying something new. Make sure that whatever it is you do try is actually aligned with your erotic and sexual desires and curiosities.

Treat Yo’self
Do not underestimate the power that diet and exercise have on your libido and erectile function. Poor blood circulation, nerve function, and insulin control can make having an erection close to impossible. In addition, regular cardiovascular exercise and a healthy diet are not only important for those pesky issues I just mentioned, but it also has a profoundly positive effect on your body image, mood regulation, and overall self-esteem. Why does this matter? If you are stressed, depressed, or not feeling good about yourself, then sex will only be “meh”; not only for you, but also your partner. If you’re not handling your business when it comes to self-care, your sexual swagger will most definitely suffer.

Tools, Toys, and Touch
Often times, people stop the practice of touching their partner or even themselves during recovery and treatment. The reasons are wide and varied from skin hypersensitivity and pain to low libido or you simply don’t feel so good. Get yourself back to touching your partner and/or yourself, where the focus is pleasure vs. homework. If you are struggling with erections, try using a silicone penis ring (vibrating or non-vibrating) for a helpful boost. Remember to consult with your doctor before using any toys. If you still have your prostate, experiment with prostate massage. Orgasms through prostate stimulation are 1.5 times stronger than orgasms achieved through vaginal penetration. If you have never done this before, consult with a sexual health clinician (nurse, therapist, physical therapist). Make sure your rectum is empty, use silicone-based lube, and start VERY slowly. You can also explore the use of anal vibrators and prostate toys for a fun pleasure assist.

Get a Little Help From…
Sexual dysfunction is highly under-reported among men in the US; which means it is much more common than you realize. Navigating the sexual landscape after cancer treatment can be a bit daunting; especially if you’re experiencing changes in your anatomy or if are a bit “maxed out” emotionally and physically. Talk to your doctor about your sexual concerns. If you don’t get the information you need, seek out a sex therapist that specializes in cancer diagnoses or a pelvic health physical therapist that specializes in sexual dysfunction. Your therapist can help you figure out sexual communication strategies; while your physical therapist can instruct you on specific exercise and positioning techniques that can improve your pelvic floor and sexual response and function. The sooner you reach out and get some help, the sooner you will see positive changes in your sexual recovery. Your sex life is an ever-evolving process that isn’t always going to be on the path that you expect. At the end of the day, you are still a sexy beast. Remember that the secrets to a successful sex life after cancer include patience, self-care, open-mindedness, and communication. Happy Movember!!

Written By: Dr. Uchenna Ossai, PT, DPT, WCS, CLT

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