If you’re concerned that prostate cancer will compromise your masculinity, take heart: You have options, and you are not alone.After a prostate cancer diagnosis, men with the condition are likely to experience many emotions — including the fear of living with the common side effects of therapy. Since many prostate cancer treatments can leave a man with erectile dysfunction, patients may struggle with feeling a loss of masculinity or feel that they are “less of a man” if they can’t perform sexually.
Prostate Cancer Treatment and Sexual Side Effects
A cancerous prostate may be either removed surgically or treated with radiation or hormone therapy, chemotherapy, cryosurgery/therapy (freezing), or vaccine treatments. Because the prostate is necessary for a man to perform sexually, his ability to have an erection may be temporarily or permanently lost if the prostate is removed.
“There are various ways to treat prostate cancer, and some of them could cause impotence,” says Julie Walther-Scheibel, MEd, LPC, a licensed professional counselor in private practice in St. Louis. “This is a fear for men and relates to their feelings of being masculine.”
Dealing With Prostate Cancer and Masculinity Issues
One way to cope is to get all the facts and understand the process, procedures, risks, benefits, and statistics of your outcome, says Walther-Scheibel. If you’re concerned about sex after prostate cancer treatment, learn all you can about your treatment options. Each treatment type has different side effects and may affect sexual function in a different way.
If your ability to achieve and sustain an erection is important to you — and it is to most men — you should consider that and discuss all the options with your doctor before deciding on and undergoing prostate cancer treatment.
Another coping method is practicing mindfulness, which is “the ability to be aware of your thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and actions in the present moment, without judging or criticizing yourself or your experience,” Walther-Scheibel says. Mindfulness can help reduce stress and anxiety. When men are feeling as though they are losing masculinity, they may shut out the ones they love, she says. “Being mindful and present int he moment helps relieve the negative thought process.”
Share Your Concerns With Others
You can also join a support group for prostate cancer patients to share your concerns with other men. Men with prostate cancer may feel better — and focus less on concerns about masculinity — if they see other men coping with the same situation that they’re in and can hear about others’ experiences.
Seeking outside counsel with your partner may help, too. Research published in the January 2012 issue of Cancer and conducted by researchers from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center found that both Internet-based counseling and face-to-face therapy sessions improved the sex lives of prostate cancer survivors and enhanced the effectiveness of their erectile dysfunction medications.
Another study, published in 2014 in the Indian Journal of Urology, found that men suffering from erectile dysfunction after radical prostatectomy benefitted from learning to control stress. Men who engaged in 10 weeks of congnitive-behavioral stress management therapy saw improvements in sexual function within about two to three weeks after completing the program.
A Fear of Prostate Cancer Diagnosis Is Normal
It’s certainly understandable to be afraid of a prostate cancer diagnosis and the potential side effects, including how they might affect your relationships.
“Fears about a lot of things are very common with a new diagnosis,” says Mary Beth Tevebaugh, LCSW, a behavioral health therapist at the Center for Behavioral Health at Baptist Hospital East in Louisville, Ky. “Fear about losing one’s masculinity is quite common as well. However, one has to define what ‘masculinity’ [means to the individual patient]. Does it relate to sexual function, or is it more of an emotional feeling?”
“It is important for men to know that just because they have prostate cancer, they are no less of a man than they were before,” Tevebaugh adds. “They may just be medically [often only temporarily] compromised sexually. There are many other ways to be ‘masculine.’ ”
Last Updated: 1/29/2015. By Diana Rodriguez | Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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