Sexuality and intimacy are not the same but are very much connected. Being intimate doesn’t have to mean sex. It might be just about spending time together, kissing, cuddling and caressing. Giving and receiving comfort or reassurance and having a sense of connection can be invaluable for people’s sense of wellbeing.
Remember, intimacy means more than just sex, and lives well beyond the bedroom.
Are you avoiding sex/intimacy because you are afraid to talk about it?
Prostate cancer treatment can lead to a loss of interest in sex, infertility, changes in your ability to give or receive sexual or intimate pleasure, or changes to the way in which you see and feel about yourself. Talking about these issues openly can be awkward and challenging. Some men don’t talk to anyone about what is going on or they ‘imagine’ and ‘second guess’ what is going on for their partners. However, communication is a vital part of maintaining intimacy in a relationship. If you have a partner, talking with them openly about a range of issues such as your concerns, changes to your body, fears, expectations and performance can help improve your relationship and sexual experience. One uncomfortable moment may be nothing compared to what you can gain by taking the risk to open the conversation. Talking about it openly may even bring you closer.
Starting a new relationship
Starting a new relationship can be hard even without having had cancer. You might be concerned about the cancer returning, how cancer and treatments have affected you physically, emotionally and sexually, and what the reaction of your new partner may be if you tell them.
One way of dealing with these concerns is to talk with others who have had similar experiences, such as by joining a support group. Another way is to see your cancer experience as something you share with a potential partner in getting to know each other. How much to tell depends on your comfort level, but being open about your cancer experience and how it has affected you might prevent misunderstanding later on and will help you develop a sense of intimacy with them. There is no ‘right’ time or way to bring up the subject, just the ‘right’ time and way for you. It might be useful to practise what you want to say so it feels familiar. It might take several conversations for you to say everything you want to.
Some men do not want to start a relationship after what they had been through with prostate cancer. Not everyone wants to be in a relationship – it is your decision.
Having children after treatment might be important to you. You should talk to your healthcare team about fertility before you start treatment so you can consider options such as sperm banking. There are still options after treatment. Talking with your partner or someone you trust about your fertility concerns and discussing your situation with your doctor, psychologist, social worker, qualified counsellor or men and their partners in a support group network who have been through similar situations can be beneficial to your wellbeing.