Gerald Haslam, author of Grace Period, is living with prostate cancer. He wrote a stunning summary of his views of the importance of sexuality while living with cancer for my upcoming book. I know I have many readers who are looking for information on sexuality and cancer, so I’m giving you an advanced look at some of the insights he shared:
A seventyish man who was recovering from a prostatectomy asked fellow members of a prostate-cancer support group how they could have sex if they were leaking urine. He ended with a timeless observation–“My wife is willing to be pissed off but not pissed on.”
Despite the laughter that followed, his was a serious problem, but the first response solved it: “Put a band on your penis –a cock ring. A lot of older guys who aren’t incontinent use them to maintain erections, but if you’re leaking they’re a good answer, especially if you use a pump.”
The first man was honest enough to admit, “I hadn’t thought of that. We’ve never used any…devices. Of course, I’ve never had prostate cancer before, either.” In fact, the prostate cancer world introduces many guys to devices and positions and concepts previously unimagined.
A physician pal said to me shortly after I was rendered impotent by prostate surgery and radiation, “You’d better start pumping up your penis every day, whether you’re going to use it right away or not, or it’ll shrivel into a Vienna sausage. As soon as you lose spontaneous erections you lose penile tone. No tone, and there’ll be nothing to pump when you do want to use it.”
In fact, sex seems to be the second most common topic–after cancer therapies–in discussions at most prostate cancer support groups, and I learned that many men, rendered impotent and perhaps stripped of libido by hormonal ablation, simply but not happily accepted the verdict that their sex lives were over, a defining activity lost. A dread frequently mentioned to me by my fellow prostate-cancer survivors has been not only the sudden absence of sex but of sexuality itself. This is especially grave since sex and sexuality can represent the life force’s most powerful affirmation in the face of death.
Unfortunately, many of us men grow up believing that our sexuality dwells almost exclusively in our genitals, so a damaged penis may lead to a damaged personality. As one wife admitted at a session for couples, “There’s not much fun in our lives anymore, and I don’t just mean sex. He’s just so sad.” A penile fixation may also lead one to forget how much sexual satisfaction can be achieved by giving pleasure to a partner you love.