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Sex and intimacy exercises: deepen your bond after prostate cancer

Man and woman playing chess outdoors

When rebuilding your sex life after prostate cancer—it’s easy to forget about other options besides intercourse or penetration. The truth is—there are many ways to think of intimacy, pleasure and connection with your partner.

Here, we’ll start you off with a few different exercises to work through—that you can do with or without a partner. (If you have a partner, it’s great to do this together and share your answers right after!) First, we’ll explore an intimacy activity.

How can I maintain intimacy after prostate cancer?

Intimacy goes beyond sex—it’s about closeness, being vulnerable, being touched, acceptance, emotional support, and much, much more. Ways to be intimate (without intercourse or penetration) include being affectionate in public, scheduling intimate time, massages, and meditation. These are all great ways to touch, stay connected, and appreciate each other.

Use good communication

Talking to your partner is the first step in preserving closeness and connectedness. Tell your partner about how cancer and treatment have affected you. Talk about how it has affected you sexually. Make a pact to stay connected, be supportive, and work as a team to re-establish an enjoyable sex life.

Avoid making assumptions about your partner’s expectations and needs

An open and candid discussion about how you two will adapt to changes will help avoid misunderstandings. For example, openly sharing your ideas on you can still have sexual contact without intercourse or penetration. Similarly, revealing to each other the emotional vulnerability you are experiencing can help bond the two of you together as a team (e.g. discuss your fear that you cannot sexually respond to the needs of the other).

Intimacy activity

Below are some thought exercises on intimacy to get your wheels turning. Reflect on the questions below individually or as a couple.

What does intimacy mean to you?

What do you think intimacy means to your partner?

How would you rate your sexual self-esteem?

Where are you now with intimacy
compared to where you want to be?

    Remember:

  • Sex doesn’t always mean intercourse or penetration

  • Explore other ways to be intimate

  • Take sex off the table

  • Schedule time to be intimate

  • Have open communication

  • Think positive, not negative

  • Don’t try to force intimacy

  • Kiss and touch often

Sex exercises: what excites you sexually?
What do you value most?

Sex experts have said there are ‘3 ingredients of good sex’:

  1. Mutuality—being able to both give and receive pleasure

  2. Both wanting to be there—not because you feel it’s your ‘duty’

  3. Intimacy—feeling vulnerable and safe, that you are loved, wanted, and won’t be judged

Exercise 1: What is good sex?

How to begin: Grab piece of paper or something to take notes with. Each of you will take time to write down what makes sex ‘good’ for you. What are the ingredients of good sex? Think of a time when sex was really good for you—what made it so satisfying?

  • When you were on vacation? What was it about being on vacation that made sex good?

  • After you partner did something that made you feel special? Attractive? Desired? Sexy?

  • After a lengthy period of foreplay? After a short period of foreplay?

  • With the lights on? With the lights off?

  • Rushed, and spontaneous? Slow and planned?

  • In the bedroom? In the backseat of the car?

  • Indoors? Outdoors?

  • Favorite sexual position (missionary, on top, on the bottom, standing, lying down)

Now, take a moment to reflect on your answers. If you have a partner, share your answers with each other and use this time to practice kind and supportive communication about sex and intimacy.

Exercise 2: What do you value about sex?

Generally, the reasons people value sex can be divided into two broad categories:

People who value sex for physical pleasure

Sex is often described as a release, as physically satisfying, as pleasurable, as a stress release, as a source of physical gratification. The sensations of arousal and orgasm are important. Sex is desired because it feels good physically.

People who value sex for relational intimacy

Sex is valued because the person feels emotionally close with their partner during sex. People who value sex for relational intimacy often find enjoyment out of the quality of time spent together and connecting on an emotional level. Sex is desired because an individual wants to connect with another person.

Print out 2 copies of the graph below, one for each of you. You can also print out this entire article, if that’s easier

PRISM model graphic for intimacy exercise
  1. On your own, first think about how much you value sex for physical pleasure. Put an X on the vertical (straight up and down) line to indicate the degree to which you value sex for physical pleasure. If you highly value sex for physical pleasure put your X close to the top of the line. If you don’t value sex for physical pleasure, put your X closer to the bottom of the line.

  2. Do the same thing thinking about how much you value sex for relational intimacy. This time draw your X on the horizontal line (the lines going left to right). If you highly value sex for relational intimacy put your X close to the right end of the line. If you don’t value sex for relational intimacy, put your X closer to the left end of the line of the line.

  3. Draw lines to connect the two lines like the example below and write your name where the two lines intersect.

  4. Now repeat this exercise guessing how your partner filled out the form and put your partner’s name beside the point.

  5. Share your results with each other. Place the graphs side by side and compare. By comparing, you two can gain a better awareness of how you value sex, including similarities and differences.

Example of completed PRISM model for intimacy activity

It’s OK if your graphs don’t match each other — that’s not the goal. Rather, it’s an opportunity to see how each of you value sex and put aside assumptions or misperceptions. By sharing, you can both become more accepting of differences and develop approaches to sex that can satisfy you both.

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