Tag Archives: prostate cancer

Regrets, taboos and erections

Cerne Abbas Giant

Recently I came across a blog post by Nimue Brown about naked men in which she notes that

In our wider society, the naked male body is a serious taboo, and nothing is less socially acceptable than a willy in a state of arousal.

Nimue is right of course. There are few greater taboos. The shelves of newsagents are full of breasts and fannies, but you won’t find an erection on display in W H Smiths. There is much said about the negative effect on women, and on men’s perception of women, of the rows of lads’ mags and endless airbrushed, sexualised images. Something that’s less talked about is the impact of taboos and the shame that they engender. I’m generally pretty comfortable with my body and comfortable with being naked—I’m probably one of the naked men Nimue is referring too. But no-one but a lover has ever seen me aroused and I would be absolutely mortified if they did. The strong taboo that our society places around erections has left me with a sense of shame about a completely natural reaction in my body.

A prostatectomy—removal of the prostate to treat prostate cancer—plays havoc with the ability to have erections. Thanks to a very skilled surgeon, a constant supply of Viagra and its more modern relatives and a fabulously supportive and sexy partner, my sex life is steadily recovering, but with about 30% of the nerves that control erections lost during surgery I know that my erections will never be the same as they were before. And there I have a regret.

The glorious majesty of a full, strong erection is lost to me forever. It is a fading memory, like so much of my younger years. But for many of those other memories I have mementos. Shamed by the taboo, though, I have no record of something that was an important part of me and my life for many years. I never took a photograph of my erect cock.

On not knowing what to say

It’s a phrase I’ve heard a lot in the last week. “I don’t know what to say”. Said with shock, with sadness, with terror, with honesty and sincerity, and so often with more than a hint of guilt. As if you feel you ought to have just the right words there ready and waiting; words that would make it all better; words that would somehow convey that you care so much better than you feel you are doing.

Well here’s the thing. There is nothing to say. No words to ease my terror. No words to soothe my anger at this massive injustice. There is no reason that you should know what to say. You have no more power to change this than I do. I wish you did. And I know you don’t.

What matters is that you care. And when you say “I don’t know what to say” there’s a beautiful honesty in that that says you care more than anything else can. There is no need to say more. No need to feel bad that you can’t say more. When I tell you that I have cancer, “I don’t know what to say” is exactly the right thing to say.