I am in my mid-50s and have been married to my husband for six years and together for 13. The last time we had sex was the night before our wedding. Four years ago, he was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer and underwent a radical prostatectomy and radiation. He now wears pads as a result of this and is incapable of achieving an erection. I have been wholly sympathetic and tried to never make it an issue, but I am feeling incredibly bereft at the fact that I may never have sexual intimacy with a man again. I have communicated to him that sexual intimacy extends beyond penile penetration, but for him to initiate any kind of intimacy beyond a brotherly kiss reminds him of what he is no longer capable of doing. As a result, we have no physical intimacy beyond cuddling at night. I have no intention of leaving my husband – he is truly my best friend and we talk about everything. I would like, however, to have his blessing to take a lover. I’m not looking for a romantic liaison necessarily, but I am looking for sexual satisfaction. When this was brought up as a possibility with our therapist, he got incredibly defensive and shut down. I don’t know how to proceed from here.
Your feelings are perfectly understandable. You have been extremely supportive and understanding for such a long time and certainly deserve to at least be heard. First of all, I don’t know if your husband has ever explored the penile rehabilitation protocols available following radical prostatectomy, but there are quite a few options so I recommend you find a physician who might be able to help with that, plus a good sex therapist. At the very least I imagine it would be helpful if your husband was encouraged to face the reality of your needs and was able to empathise.
Many people who are stuck in similar impasses find creative ways to get their needs met. Some discover these transparently through the online or medical help that is available for people with sexual dysfunction or disabilities – while some people act out their desires quietly and privately, trying not to upset the apple cart, which of course comes with risks. Regardless, just because the subject was raised unsuccessfully in the past does not mean there is no other way to help him acknowledge your struggle and perhaps even agree to the solution you propose.
Pamela Stephenson Connolly is a US-based psychotherapist who specialises in treating sexual disorders.
If you would like advice from Pamela on sexual matters, send us a brief description of your concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org (please don’t send attachments). Each week, Pamela chooses one problem to answer, which will be published online. She regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see gu.com/letters-terms.
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