How A Devastating Diagnosis Led To Better Intimacy In My Marriage

Photo: Hryshchyshen Serhii / Shutterstock
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This year, over 288,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer.

This is a serious disease that kills approximately 375,000 men a year.

Yet, for many men, the biggest concern is the impact the treatment will have on their sex lives. Most men with prostate cancer are married, and prostate cancer-induced impotence can be devastating and often leads to marital breakdown.

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It doesn't have to be this way. Impotence does not have to mean a loss of sexual intimacy. In fact, impotence can lead to greater sexual intimacy.

I know this sounds about as counterintuitive as a statement can sound, and I’ll explain. First, let's examine why impotence due to prostate cancer can have such a profound negative impact.

Most men equate impotence with a loss of their manhood, of their essential masculinity. This belief that a hard erection is a necessary hallmark of manhood comes from deeply entrenched cultural and biological wiring. It's something we learn from our culture: if we can’t perform sexually according to more traditional, procreative dictates, we feel broken. We feel unworthy of our mates' affections.

Of course, losing one’s ability to have an erection is enormously difficult — a significant loss that must be grieved by both the man and his partner. Everyone who experiences this goes through three or more of the traditional four stages of loss: disbelief, anger, depression, and acceptance.

Because of the importance our culture places on normal erectile function, and the lack of conversation about what else is possible (aside from pharmaceutical and surgical interventions designed to restore lost function), many men get stuck in anger and/or depression.

In so doing, they create an environment that no relationship is likely to survive. This unfortunate and totally unnecessary scenario is being played out with millions of couples all the time.

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The key to preserving these relationships — and, potentially, experiencing even greater intimacy than before — starts with acceptance, the last stage of the loss process. Once a man accepts the "isness" of his impotence (i.e. no longer fighting or resisting the reality of it), both he and his partner are on the doorstep of incredible healing and intimate possibilities.

This means no longer chasing the possibility of regaining erectile function through medical means. I'm not saying that these possibilities are off limits (that's your doctor's job if it is truly the case); I'm saying that letting go of them for a while is key to discovering what my partner and I did: that there are so many other ways to be intimate than standard erectile-function-dependent intercourse.

Once I accepted my ED, my partner and I became open to exploring other ways of being intimate.

And what came out of that exploration is nothing short of extraordinary. My partner and I now make love for two to four hours at a time.

I receive incredible satisfaction from seeing her climax a minimum of five to seven times every time we make love. And my own climaxes are far more powerful and longer lasting than they were when I actually had a prostate and could get an erection. (Yes, a man can climax without ejaculating or having an erection.)

We are not alone in our experience.

Research has shown that about 15% of couples affected by ED also enjoy far greater and more fulfilling sex lives than they did when everything was working properly.

How is this possible? It's quite simple, actually.

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Not being able to get hard means I no longer have that overwhelming urge to "use it" that normally functioning men encounter during an erection.

This allows me to slow down significantly for my partner, and more closely match her sexual response profile.  As a result, my partner is able to have a much more powerful sexual experience. Being the source of that experience, I have a deeper level of fulfillment and satisfaction than ever before.

The key to turning the tragedy of prostate cancer-induced ED into a blessing boils down to a choice. As men, we can choose to believe the cultural imprinting that our ability to "perform" is what makes us a man. Or, we can choose to define who we are as men by how deeply we connect with and are able to please our partner. This choice is available to every man affected by prostate cancer or ED, regardless of the cause.

Relationships don't have to self-destruct because of prostate cancer.

It can create an opportunity to rekindle and substantially deepen the emotional and physical connection between couples, and may even become the doorway to far great sexual satisfaction and fulfillment than they ever thought possible.

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Michael J. Russer is an international speaker, author, and thought leader on the issues of human connection and intimacy.