Your sex life after penile cancer
This page tells you about how your sex life may be affected by having cancer of the penis. You can find out about
Your sex life after penile cancer
It can be very difficult coping with changes to your body after surgery, especially to your penis. How you look depends on the type of surgery you have.
It is normal for men who have surgery to this area to feel angry, confused and upset for some time afterwards. You are likely to feel generally different about yourself. It’s common to worry that you are less attractive to your partner. This can all have an effect on your self esteem. Remember that the people closest to you won’t think of you any differently than they did before.
How much penile cancer affects your sex life and sexuality depends on what treatment you have. Whenever possible, your doctors will try to give you treatment that preserves your penis and allows you to continue a normal sex life. It is important to communicate openly with your sexual partner and for you both to share how you feel about it.
Getting help and support
Some people prefer to cope with things on their own, while others would like help from other people. A multidisciplinary health care team will look after you. These professionals have experience of caring for people in similar situations to you. They can put you in touch with a counsellor or sex therapist if you would like to see one.
You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the living with penile cancer section.
How much penile cancer affects your sex life and sexuality depends on which treatment you have. Doctors will always try to give you the treatment that preserves as much of your penis as possible. This will allow you to use it as normally as possible.
Most men are able to have a fulfilling sex life after treatment. Communicate with your sex partner. It might help if you both share how you feel about it. A specialist counsellor or nurse can also help you to talk about any issues. Ask your doctor to refer you to one if you feel you need more support.
It is natural for men who have treatment to this area of the body to feel angry, confused and upset for some time. You might also feel different about yourself in general. Many men who have this type of cancer worry that they will be less attractive to their partner. This can have an effect on your self esteem.
These thoughts are common. It might be helpful to remember that the people closest to you won’t think of you differently than before. They will want to support you as much as they can. Let them know how you feel. Sharing your feelings can make you feel less isolated and more able to cope with things.
Radiotherapy to your penis might have a temporary effect on your ability to have an erection. This can sometimes be due to tiredness caused by the radiotherapy and the worry about your diagnosis. Radiotherapy might also affect the nerves in and around the penis in the short term.
The tissue in the penis might become thickened from radiotherapy. This might make it more difficult and painful to have an erection. You may also have less sensation.
Most of these side effects improve once you have finished treatment. Many men are able to carry on their sex life as before.
After removal of the area of the cancer (wide local excision) most men are usually able to have an erection and carry on with their sex life.
After removal of the head of the penis (glansectomy) with reconstruction you are usually able to continue your sex life. This is because the blood supply and nerves are not affected.
After removal of part of the penis (partial penectomy) men are also usually able to have a fulfilling sex life. It is often still possible to have an erection and orgasm without the sensitive head of the penis. You can still penetrate your partner with the remaining shaft of the penis. A study on men who had a partial penectomy found that over half of them could have an erection and intercourse.
After removal of the whole penis (total penectomy), you might need to adapt the way you express your sexuality. It is still possible to have a fulfilling sex life. Talk to your partner and share the ways you would like to be sexually satisfied. This may help you to overcome the changes in your body. You will still have sensitive areas around your scrotum, testicles and the area between your anus and scrotum. By stimulating these areas you may be able to have an orgasm. Take time to experiment and explore your body. Find what gives pleasure to you and your partner. You could try using massage, a vibrator or oral sex. Fantasy with films or pictures may increase arousal for both you and your partner.
After a penis reconstruction you may be able to have an erection. This depends on whether your surgeon could reconnect the nerves and blood supply. Before you have the surgery, talk to your doctor about what you should expect afterwards. Read about penis reconstruction.
All these changes to your sex life take time to adjust to. Working as a couple on the changes and sharing your feelings can make it easier.
It can be very difficult to cope with changes to your body after surgery, especially to your penis. Immediately after surgery your genital area will be swollen. It can be a shock to see the changes even if your doctor told you beforehand what to expect.
How you look will depend on the surgery you had.
After wide local excision you have a scar. The shape of your penis might have changed slightly. This depends on how much tissue the surgeon removed.
After removal of the head of the penis (a glansectomy) with a skin graft, your penis will be smaller and the glans will no longer be there. It will look like a circumcised penis. You will still have an opening in the middle of your penis for passing urine.
After removal of the penis (total penectomy) you have a scar where the surgeon removed your penis. You have an opening between your anus and your scrotum for passing urine. You will need to sit down on the toilet to pass urine.
Talking about these changes and how you’re feeling can help you cope with your situation. It won’t take all of the emotional pain away but can make it easier to deal with.
Ask your surgeon to be honest as this will help you to know exactly what to expect after the operation. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your surgeon will be sensitive to how you are feeling and will want to reassure you when possible.
Talk to your radiotherapy doctor before radiotherapy
Ask your radiotherapy doctor what effect the radiotherapy is likely to have on your ability to have an erection.
You might find that you can get support from your partner, your family and friends, and other people close to you. There may only be a few people you can speak to openly. You might feel shy or too embarrassed to speak to some people about your cancer and treatment. These feelings are natural. But most people find that they feel better once they've shared their feelings.
Some men feel that they are no longer attractive after their penile surgery. This may cause problems with sex and intimacy. Let your partner know about these feelings. You may find it helpful to read our information about sex and cancer for men.
The kind of support you need depends on what makes you comfortable. Some people prefer to cope with things on their own, while others like help from other people.
A multidisciplinary health care team will look after you. They are a team of professionals who can help you. They have experience of caring for people in similar situations to yours. This team might include a specialist urology nurse, doctors and psychologists. These specialists can put you in touch with other men with penile cancer. They can also refer you to a counsellor or sex therapist. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
For information and support
Contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 (Open 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday).
Share experiences on our online forum – Cancer Chat.
You can read a man's account about life after penile cancer.
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