Sophie Cullinane | Features Editor | 1,022 day ago

Viagra, Condoms, Bald Balls and Bruises: How Your Sex Life Changes When Your Boyfriend Has Cancer

The Debrief: Your sex life goes to some strange places when your boyfriend has testicular cancer in his twenties, as 26-year-old hairdresser Holly discovered. Here are her tips on how to deal with it…

There was no way of preparing for the violent, cataclysmic shift my life took when my 26-year-old boyfriend was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Suddenly my blokey, fun, silly idiot (who I used to tell my friends I could barely tolerate, but actually love more than anyone else in the world) became a morbid, ghost figure I was too afraid to touch in case he broke. For most people in a relationship in their early twenties, it’s actively discouraged to think too far into the future in case anyone labels you a ‘bunny boiler’, but when you are confronted with that harsh reality being with your boyfriend, ‘forever’ starts to take on an enormous significance. Because ‘forever’ for him might not be a very long time at all. 

I’d been with James for two years when he was diagnosed with stage-one testicular cancer. He had found something whilst he was in the shower and, after nearly a month of burying his head in the sand and hoping it would go away, he asked me to check it out. There was a tiny lump underneath the skin on one of his balls the size of a small pea. I thought it was nothing, but he was anxious and grouchy and was, frankly, driving me a bit mad, so I told him to go to the doctor. When we heard the diagnosis – and that he would likely lose one of his balls and have to go through both radio and chemo therapy – I don’t think either of us believed what the doctor was saying. But six months into treatment when his hair started falling out and he lost nearly three stone in weight and one of his testicles it was impossible to pretend it wasn’t real any more. 

Most people feel like men are supposed to be macho and rugged, but no one warns you testicular cancer – which happens to be located in that place lots of guys believe to be the centre of their sexual power – can make a guy feel like he’s been robbed of all his masculinity. Before James got cancer, we’d always had a very full sex life and did it four or five times a week – it was one of the reasons I was so into him – but boy did that take a nose dive after his diagnosis. Of course, I still loved him more than anything, and I was far more concerned with the cancer than how much sex I was getting, but suddenly a hugely important part of our relationship disappeared altogether. We went from doing it nearly every day, to going almost a month without even snogging each other. James is now in remission and is nearing the all clear and our sex life is back on track, but it took supreme effort from both of us and it certainly wasn’t all easy. Here are some of the bizarre and unexpected places your sex life goes when your boyfriend has testicular cancer in his twenties. 

Not wanting sex suddenly became so much more significant 

There’s no real formula for when you’ll be ready to have sex after an orchidectomy (where one or both of the testicles are removed), but the whole area tends to be very sore for about a week. Desperate to get back into feeling normal again, James and I tried three days after the operation and he ended up really hurting himself and almost tearing one of his stitches, which completely freaked us both out and we both stopped trying altogether for nearly a month. Plus, he was getting chemo and radiotherapy and was very weak, I didn't want to touch him in case I hurt him. For a month, I didn’t even snog him in case he’d try to have sex and hurt himself again. It was obvious this upset him and he was craving intimacy, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Eventually, we started to be more intimate again, but saying ‘no’ to sex suddenly became very political. If he said ‘no’ to me, I felt like a selfish bitch who was putting my needs in front of those of a sick person, and if I said ‘no’ to him it would make him feel like an unattractive, sick invalid. The day he said he wasn’t up for it tonight and it didn’t really bother me was the day I knew he really was on the road to recovery. 

Tip: Don’t rush things, and as hard as it is, try not to take rejection personally 

READ MORE: How To Have Newly-Single Sex

Condoms Become Much More Of A Thing

I’m on the coil and we had both been tested for STIs, so we never used to use a condom before James got cancer. In fact, he used to say he ‘couldn’t come’ when he wore one. But you're advised to wear condoms for a few days after chemo, as there might still be some of the drugs in the semen, so doctors told us we’d have to use a condom if we wanted to have sex. Plus, not that it was on the agenda, but you’re definitely advised not to get pregnant for six months after chemotherapy, in case any of the drugs cause abnormalities in the foetus. Either way, it turns out that he can definitely come with a condom on – the liar.

Tip: Definitely use those condoms! 

 You’ll Have To Get Used To Being Gentle 

Before he was diagnosed, James liked me to scratch down his back quite hard when we had sex, but chemotherapy can give you low platelets, which can make you bruise or cut yourself more easily. The first time we had sex after his chemo, his back looked like something out of a slasher film and I was completely horrified with myself. He told me it was nothing, but I think even he was shocked by how delicate he had now become. 

Tip: Tread carefully, and don’t freak out if things aren’t the same as they were BC (Before Cancer)

You’ll Probably Use Viagra At Some Point

It’s completely normal to experience a decreased libido when you’re going through cancer treatment and, very early on, his doctor offered to prescribe him Viagra to deal with any temporary erectile problems. As a young, virile man I think this bruised James’s ego a bit, but after a couple of failed attempts and a lot of discussion from me, we decided to give it a go. He actually loved the fast ‘recovery time’ you get when you take Viagra – it’s only a shame we can’t get our hands on any now he’s in remission! 

Tip: Viagra post-chemo is pretty normal, so don’t be embarrassed to speak to your doctor about it

READ MORE: How To Have Newly-Single Sex

He Might Start To Look Like a Porn Star 

James was always quite hairy and not all that into male grooming, but after chemo he lost every single follicle – all over his body. If you’re not getting what I mean, he suddenly had a completely bald dick. It was one of the only things that we could laugh about together about the entire horrible process, because it made him look like a porn star. He said he liked the way his dick looked bald and he thought it made it look bigger, but I think we were both pleased when his pubes started growing back.

Tip: If you find an opportunity to laugh at the situation, take it

One Real Ball Is As Good As Two 

James opted to get one prosthetic ball and now you’d never know anything happened to him – he looks the same, his sensation during sex is still great and, although it’s not the same for everyone, we’ve found out that James will still be able to have children one day. It’s a testament to how caring, brave and understanding he is that he made our relationship and sex a priority when he was battling a potentially life-threatening illness, and it makes me so proud of him every day. He may only have one real testicle, but James has serious balls and I love him more than anything. 

Tip: You quickly learn how to prioritise the important things

No one should face cancer alone.  Find tips on how you can help someone affected by cancer by visiting Macmillan.org.uk/source 

All cancer treatment and side-affects may vary so always seek medical advice from your GP or specialist if you have any concerns.

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*As told to Sophie Cullinane. All names have been changed... 

 

Tags: Sex, Sex O\'Clock