Anyone who has suffered from illness knows that feeling of helplessness and —- fear of a future without intimacy. While such fears may compel you to push away the person you love the most, it may not dawn on you that this could be an opportunity to enhance intimacy between yourself and your partner. Most couples who really love each other discover that their love grows stronger and their passion deeper after trauma because they no longer take each other for granted. They fall back in love and want to treasure every moment. This is the time to start re-creating romantic memories together, to say and do all the things you never did before.
I recently connected with Rabbi Dr. Ed Weinsberg (Ed.D., D.D.) who is a prostate cancer survivor, healthcare educator, intimacy coach, certified sexuality counselor and author. We discovered that we had a lot in common, including our passion to help individuals and couples renew personal relationships disrupted by cancer, other major illnesses, and treatment side effects. Guided by Rabbi Ed’s heart-centered coaching, men and women learn to reignite intimacy physically, emotionally and spiritually — loving and living with renewed joy.
It’s, my pleasure to share Rabbi Ed’s advice on how you and your partner can get your sexual life back despite your illness:
1. Decide to “make love,” rather than “have sex.”
Physical intimacy can help a man or woman offset some of their frustrations when one or both have a sexual dysfunction that prevents intercourse or orgasm. To offset this, recognize that orgasm is possible for many, although not everyone, even when men can’t have erections due to ED or women have female sexual dysfunctions (FSD).
Don’t insist that your manhood is exclusively based on your capacity for intercourse. Instead of sexual intercourse, make bonding with your partner your main objective. It’s understandable that losing sexual functioning can lead to a sense of emasculation as a man or deficiency as a woman. Still, if you accept that “making love” rather than “having sex” is at the core of your most intimate moments, you may find increasing sexual satisfaction. This is not a question of semantics, but a way to reframe what intimacy is all about.
2. Focus on different body sensations before engaging in intercourse, using the S-T-I-C-K method for “whole body sex.”
This is a variation of progressive “sensate focus” for gradually increasing arousal. Couples may choose to alternate this suggested sequence of sensual activities or combine some of these steps:
S - Stroke each other psychologically. Almost everyone needs to be stroked. Start with verbal expressions of what you admire most about each other and what attracts you to each other intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
T - Touch each other physically, starting with a hug, whether clothed or not. Proceed to mutual massages, front and back, gradually progressing from your shoulders to your waist, avoiding your partner’s breasts. Then proceed to touch or massage each other’s legs before gently caressing erogenous zones like each other’s breasts, thighs and genitals.
I - Intercourse can be attempted right after “stroking” and touching, or later if you are “up” for it, – but don’t rush it! Many men, including early stage and advanced prostate or breast cancer patients and survivors, may find their sexual frustration persists despite the satisfaction they can derive from whole body alternative sex play. If ED or FSD persists, the couple can consider a “soft entry” approach, with the man’s flaccid penis rubbing the surface of his partner’s genitalia. Using a dildo and harness can also be mutually satisfying, and if both partners apply lubrication both men and women can make this a more pleasant and pleasurable experience. A penile implant, requiring about 1 1⁄2 hours of surgery, is another option for men to eliminate ED altogether.
C - Cuddle without initial expectations of anything but deriving warmth and support, physically and emotionally.
K - Kiss each other gently on the lips, cheeks, and back. Then go below the neck, but above the waist. From there, your lips can go elsewhere, if mutually acceptable (compare “T”). Adding a mixture of whipped cream or your favorite chocolate can heighten your pleasure.
3. Communicate openly and often with your spouse or partner.
Be truly present when talking with your beloved about non-sexual matters. After all, you can have smooth, ongoing relations only if you have a good relationship! Set aside time to talk with your spouse or partner about your personal needs, especially sexual intimacy. If talking explicitly about sex is awkward for either of you, you can each write down what you need or want from each other and then compare notes and follow up.
Explore alternatives as well like tantric sex exercises, originally derived from 6,000 year-old Indian practices that help lovers focus on each other for a prolonged time. This involves mutual eye contact and parallel movement and breathing, to become fully present and at one with each other and potentially multi-orgasmic. Attending a Marriage Enrichment weekend retreat can also reinforce your connection with your significant other on many levels.
4. Schedule times to rev up your romance.
Sexual relations are hard to sustain without developing a good relationship. Set dates with each other to allow for greater non-sexual intimacy, such as seeing a movie or going to a restaurant or concert together. Use scented candles and wear special pajamas or lingerie (or nothing at all!) with soft lighting, to set the mood for increased physical intimacy.
5. Watch a “hot” movie together that appeals to your sense of humor.
Agree to rent a “steamy” film for home or hotel room viewing to help get you and your partner in the mood to become physical. Make sure you do not choose a film that is going to turn one of you on, but the other off, and remember that a humorous show can warm you up to each other! Keep in mind that some educational films, though approved by sexologists, may be boring and fail to arouse couples, so preview films to see what works best for you.
6. Develop a healthy lifestyle.
Exercise regularly and eat a balanced, heart-healthy, low-sugar diet for weight control and improved sleep. Reduce alcohol intake to avoid sluggishness and eliminate smoking to enhance genital blood flow. Such steps can renew your level of energy and reduce performance anxiety. Let your mantra be, “I enjoy my sexercises,” to maintain penile or vaginal blood flow through self or mutual-stimulation. Start this as soon as possible after a health procedure such as cancer surgery or other procedures, in consultation with your doctor.
Daily Kegel exercises, with the help of biofeedback if needed, can strengthen your pelvic floor and sphincter muscles. While these won’t raise your libido, Kegels can help with ED and FSD. They will also help “stem the tide” for those with mild incontinence.
7. Keep the faith.
To conquer ED or FSD and raise your libido, have faith in your Higher Power, your doctor, your spouse, and above all, yourself. Regarding sexual activity as sacred or purposeful can make for a more powerful experience.
Still it’s important to recognize that stress, treatment side effects, and the aging process can affect not only seniors but boomers and younger men and women as well. Simply knowing you are not alone in your efforts to renew your life physically, emotionally and spiritually can help. It’s equally important, though, to realize that you can bounce back from ED/FSD and a low libido if you resolve to rely on your resilience and your adaptability to new forms of sexual expression. This kind of faith can raise you to new heights!
For a more in-depth look at these issues, check out Rabbi Ed’s new eBook, Reigniting Intimacy and Sexuality after You’re Ill, available for just $4.99 in PDF format at http://bit.ly/ReigniteIntimacy2 and in Kindle format at http://amzn.to/JreTCN. Other eBook formats are available on Smashwords at http://bit.ly/RenewIntimacy.
Rabbi Ed is the author of two top award-winning books: Conquer Prostate Cancer: How Medicine, Faith, Love and Sex Can Renew Your Life, and Reigniting Intimacy and Sexuality after You’re Ill. For helpful articles and resources visit www.ConquerProstateCancer.com and www.LovingAfterCancer.com