Sunday 24 September 2017

Dear Mary: 'I'm worried about sex after surgery for testicular cancer'

Relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist Mary O'Conor offers relationship advice in her weekly column.
Relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist Mary O'Conor offers relationship advice in her weekly column.

Mary O'Conor

Relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist Mary O'Conor offers relationship advice in her weekly column.

Q: I'm in my 30s and some years ago I had radical surgery for testicular cancer.   It was a hugely stressful time in my life, as you can imagine. I don't think I'm over the shock yet, as I thought this only happened to men in their 50s and older.   

I'm more grateful than I can ever say to the medical staff, and in particular my surgeon. They were never anything other than positive throughout the whole experience. My family were also like rocks, although I'm sure they went through their own worries about me, particularly my mam. My job was kept for me while I was sick, and I really appreciated this. My surgeon assured me he got all the cancer so I know that I have a lot to be grateful for.

However, as a result of all this my social life suffered, and I've never really had a girlfriend. I am shy anyway, and find it difficult to chat up girls.

Read more: Dealing with Erectile Dysfunction: 'Having an erection is an integral part of your masculinity'

Before I got sick, I was big into sport, and that took up most of my time and there were always the lads to go out with for a beer after training or after a match.

I don't have the same energy now and am not back playing, and I miss that too. But the big thing is that I would like to be in a relationship.

So here's the worry. I don't seem to be having erections anything like I used to have before the cancer.

Read more: Testicular cancer survivor: 'I came close to losing my life twice so I value every single day'

I'm only basing this on my own observations because, like I said, I don't have a girlfriend. But how am I going to get one if I think that I can't perform when it comes down to it? I had nerve-sparing surgery but I'm wondering if it actually worked. Any thoughts would be much appreciated - it's not something I can talk about to my friends.

Mary says: It's great to hear good news stories like yours, and it is wonderful that you are cancer-free. So now that the threat of the illness is gone you are starting to think about normal life and finding a mate.

I can understand that you are worried about full sexual functioning - what is called performance anxiety - but I would urge you not to look too far ahead, and to concentrate instead on meeting somebody to whom you are attracted. I cannot emphasise this enough, because if you are continually worried and anxious about what happens when you become fully sexual with a girl you will not be relaxed enough to let her get to know the real you.

Read more: "Before I got sick it would have never crossed my mind to check myself for lumps and bumps"

Almost everybody has anxieties and worries, and it is only as the relationship progresses that people let down their guard and admit to these. So bear in mind that the girl that you are attracted to may well have things that she is worried about herself and is equally anxious as to what will happen when you learn about them.

As you probably know, the nerves that control the erectile functioning lie next to the prostate gland. Sometimes they can be damaged or removed during surgery, but as your surgeon told you that he spared the nerves, then this is good news.

You should go back and check further with him and voice your concerns, although I understand from speaking with a urologist that it can take up to four years to recover fully from surgery.

Read more: Irish rugby player appeals to men to be more aware of testicular cancer

If, however, you continue to experience problems then it may be that some of the medications available will work for you.They are not successful for everybody, but are well worth a try.

So my advice is to get out and about with your friends and even if you are not ready to go back playing you can meet them after training. Try to live life to the full and not worry about what will happen in the future. A guy with a positive outlook is always more attractive to a girl than one who is a glass-half- empty person. And you certainly have reason to celebrate life. Others haven't been as lucky.

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting www.dearmary.ie or email her at dearmary@independent.ie or write c/o 27-32 Talbot St, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately

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