The profound grief many experience after the death of a beloved pet is as tangible as the grief we experience for a beloved human.
“Folks frustrated by what life throws at them are often filled with rage and self-pity.”
Recently I got an email from a 58-year-old man who lives in San Diego. His name is Doug and this is what he had to say.
“HI, I need some help. I had my prostate removed due to prostate cancer. I feel I have lost my manhood. I don’t experience erections anymore. My penis is dead. Can you recommend something to help me?”
I don’t think Doug is dying, not actively dying anyhow, but he sure is experiencing a profound sense of loss — the death of his sexuality. Or at least the death of the sexual expression he was accustomed to before his radical cancer treatment.
Another truly uncanny thing is that in the same week I heard from Doug, I’ve received distressing email from three other people who were at their wits end because life had dealt them a crushing blow. While each person who wrote to me had a very different presenting problem, all were experiencing a similar “death” to what Doug was experiencing. I heard from a woman in Toronto who is recovering from a radical mastectomy. I heard from a guy in Dallas who had just started a recovery program for his serious meth addiction. A young wife and mother in North Carolina whose husband, and father of her two kids, had returned from Afghanistan an emotional and physical basket case. And now Doug.
It’s astonishing that, despite the dramatic differences in each person’s life story, all of my correspondents reported pretty much same thing. Each felt less than whole, disconnected from their sexuality and devoid of any real intimacy or meaningful sexual outlet. It is so amazing how, despite our unique individual difficulties, there is often a universal response to life’s troubling complexities, particularly as it applies to who we are as sexual beings.
When I wrote back to Doug I wanted to empathize, but also encourage. Regaining a sense of sexual-self after prostate surgery, or any of the other problems I mentioned above, is an arduous, but rewarding task.
Hey Doug, I’m so glad you wrote to me. I’m sorry to hear of the problems you’ve bee having since your surgery, but I think I have a few tips to offer you.
Considering your ebbing self-confidence and zero libido, I suggest that you begin your rehabilitation by connecting with others similarly challenged as you. In your case, that will probably be other men living with and through prostate cancer. More likely than not, they will be a whole lot more sympathetic to your issues and attuned to your predicament than even your closest friends and family. Sometimes, people who have yet to experience a life threatening illness or a disfiguring surgery don’t have a clue about how to interact with those that have. It’s not their fault; it’s just the way things are.
I suggest looking into a support group, if you haven’t done so already. Once you make that connection, you will find, that you are not alone. The other men in the group will be experiencing many of very same things you are. And to my mind, it’s a whole lot easier to face and handle life’s difficulties when surrounded and supported by others. That being said, I want to give you a heads-up about support groups, particularly if you’ve never participated in one before.
Each support group has it’s own personality and dynamic. If the group is not lead by a skillful facilitator it’ll, no doubt, degenerate into a bitch and gripe session. No surprise there, I suppose. Folks frustrated by what life throws at them are often filled with rage and self-pity, a lethal combination. A group like this, you should pardon the pun, will be a death trap. If you find yourself in such a group leave it and look for another. A successful group, on the other hand, will be transformational; it will challenge and motivate as well as support you.
Another caution; beware of the lowest common denominator. If you are in a prostate cancer group, you can be certain that every man in the group has sexual issues he’s dying to talk about. Unfortunately, few if and of these men will be so bold as to admit that. It’s how us guys are conditioned to behave. We can endlessly brag about our sexual exploits, but, God forbid, we ever seriously discuss our sexual issues. I have plenty of experience leading these sorts of groups and I can assure you, I have to drag the sex stuff out of the participants until they get the hang of it, and then I can hardly get them off the topic. If you find yourself in such a group, I hope you will take the lead and help break the ice, so to speak. You’ll do everyone, yourself include, a huge favor.
Next I suggest that you try connecting with people on a sensual level as opposed to a sexual level. For example, I firmly believe in massage as the best way to accomplish this. Think about it. Imagine the good you’ll be able to do for others, as well as yourself with therapeutic touch. And in my book therapeutic touch also includes sensual touch.
Massage will soothe so much more than the jangled nerves and disrupted muscle tissue caused by radical and invasive surgery. It gives the one doing the touch a renewed sense of him/herself as a pleasure giver, which is so very important to us all. When you receive the touch, it will begin to reawaken sensory connections you thought were lost for good. And your libido as well as your erection will surely bloom again. I promise. To keep that erection going once it starts, I encourage you to use a penis ring. And if you don’t know what that is, do an internet search. It’s a brilliant, low-tech solution to erectile dysfunction, which happily doesn’t involve pharmaceuticals.
Now if you feel your massage skills aren’t up to par, why not take a class or workshop in massage. You might want to look to something like the Body Electric School Of Massage. They have load of training options and there are chapters all over the world. In their modality, learning is a hands-on experience. What could be more liberating than that?
If a class is a bit too intimidating at first, you might consider purchasing a book on massage. I have two exceptionally good ones in mind. The first is: Male Erotic Massage: A Guide to Sex and Spirit, by Ray Stubbs, Ph.D. This is a holistic approach to bodywork, including the sexual and the spiritual aspects of Male Erotic Massage. There are over 200 photographs in this volume that reveal both massage techniques and the beauty of the male body embracing the male body. The strength, the joy, the gentleness, the ardor, the tenderness, the equanimity, and the pleasure — they are all included.
The second title is: Erotic Massage, The Touch of Love also by Ray Stubbs, Ph.D. This is a more inclusive volume of erotic massage. It describes long, flowing strokes for the whole body, including female and male genitals. By the way, this was the very first massage book to explicitly illustrate genital massage. The techniques described are simple and easy to perform. It’s superbly illustrated, and the text is both tender and playful.
Finally, your gift of massage is the ideal way to connect with another humans, be it a friend, a partner, lover, or even a relative stranger. Your touch can be either seductive or non-seductive, or maybe a little of both. You can count on this purposeful touching to open new doors to what is possible for you now, post surgery. The mistake that many people make at this point is to compare what is going on for them now to what they were used to before their diagnosis and/or surgery. That won’t do. You now have a new normal. Find out what it is; embrace it; and then slowly stretch those boundaries. You’ll discover new pleasures, both subtle and profound, as you give as well as receive touch.
I encourage you to push beyond the isolation I know you are feeling, Doug. Purposeful touching, like massage will change your perceptions about sex, sensuality and intimacy. And like I said, it will, more likely than not, revitalize the arousal phase of your sexual response cycle. I know this can happen. I’ve seen it happen. And now, Doug, it’s your turn to make it happen!