How to talk to your partner about sex after prostate cancer

Man and woman facing each other with their palms touching

Whether you’re someone who’s been through prostate cancer—or their partner—you know that talking about it all can be uncomfortable, challenging or nonexistent. But communicating can also help ease fears about your relationship.
So here we’ll give you and your partner some tips for better communication, real conversation starters and an activity to begin.

Put it all on the table

Usually, couples who talk openly about sexual challenges, changes, and worries, have an increased connection and a better sex life. Being open about what you're both going through helps you to approach it as a team. Talking about how your bodies have changed with age and with prostate cancer treatment can help you recover your sexual intimacy together.

Sharing your fears and worries builds closeness and take away the feeling of being in this situation alone. For example, your partner may worry that you won’t be attracted to them if you don’t get an erection before or during sex. Often, that’s not true.

The impact of prostate cancer and treatment on your sex life can be dramatic and upsetting. You might feel angry, upset, confused or numb. These changes can affect your body, mind and relationships. It’s normal to have different feelings.

Talk about erection troubles

Of course, sex is about more than erections. But for some men, losing erections is like losing a part of oneself. So being able to talk about how you feel can help you heal.

As a partner—it helps to listen with interest, but let them come to terms with it on their own. Each of you has needs and wishes and worries. Being able to share and be heard is a great way to support each other.

Getting ready for a good conversation

    Here are some tips to smooth the path ahead:

  • Choose a good time and quiet place. Set a time and place when you have time to talk uninterrupted. Turn off the TV, the phone, and computer. It’s worth your attention.

  • Be relaxed. Take a deep breath. You and your partner know each other and have shared a lot. You can even take some deep breaths together.

  • Listen without interrupting. When sensitive subjects are discussed, listening and repeating back what you heard is very helpful.

  • Ask questions and be curious about how they’re doing.

  • Compliment each other. Don’t hold back here. Let each other know what you’ve enjoyed about each other emotionally and sexually. For example, you might share how you like the way your partner smiles or reacts to you. How they held, or stroked you.

  • Try not to "fix" each other’s feelings. Allow the other person to express how they feel.

How and when you decide to engage in sexual intimacy is up to you and your partner, but remember — good communication is essential whether you’re communicating with words or your body language.

Use conversation starters to open up

Talking about your thoughts and feelings may not be easy—but it’s important. Don’t know how to start? We’ve got some pointers that can kick off the conversation.

    Consider these:

  • I know I don't always explain how I'm feeling, so I wanted to take a moment now.

  • I know cancer is affecting us differently, so l wanted to know how you felt.

  • Some of what I’m going through may be obvious, but there's a lot of stuff I don't talk about.

Openness and communication are very important as you’re working on staying sexually active. Bottling up your feelings, you will start to come to terms with the changes and this feeling will reduce over time. Telling someone about how you are feeling will help. This could be a partner, a close friend or a counselor.

Bottom line: The more you talk, the easier it will be to have these conversations. You can also get more support if others know how you feel.

Try a communication activity

If you’re looking a simple place to start, here’s an activity that can be done with a partner, or on your own. You can do this exercise as many times as you like. You can also put a reminder on your calendar to do it regularly—this way, you can make sure it happens.

How to begin: Grab some paper or something to jot down your responses. Look at each prompt below, and take time to answer each question. Share and discuss your responses with each other.

Think about and write down one question to ask your partner about how prostate cancer has affected them.

Think about and write down one activity (that you already do) that makes you feel physically close.

Think about and write down one activity you would like to do (in the future) to stay physically close.

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