12 February 2021: Nearly a year after my radical prostatectomy, natural erections are visiting on a rare, fleeting and unpredictable basis. How much I miss the eagerness of this body part that used so frequently to pop up of its own accord, regardless of the appropriateness of the occasion!
The legacy of a particular kind of eagerness
As my own erections return in fits and starts, I am reminded that for 50 years I have lived with the epitome of eagerness between my legs. I mean, it was always keen and usually ready to go, even if I tried to hide it. Until my radical prostatectomy it would bob up, eagerly proclaiming its readiness for action, many times a day. When I was younger it would be many times per hour! And I have been desperately missing it for the last year.
Of course the essence of this experience isn’t limited to people born with male genitalia. But I am realising that the brazenness of the way my body expressed itself – that tent in my trousers – is a powerful legacy for me. I am guessing I am not alone.
Growing up with male energy
When I was still a boy I was often embarrassed by that eager bobbing up of the extraordinary male organ I was born with. Looking back, I want to hug that little boy and tell him it’s OK, it’s a natural bodily function.
When I was a young man my partners sometimes felt overwhelmed by the sexual hunger that came with that eagerness within me – and how obviously it manifested. I suppose a lot of what boys need to learn as we become men, is how to be with that rip-roaring energy and how to channel it appropriately. I want to tell that young man his energy is nothing to be ashamed of, but it comes with a lot of responsibility.
Looking back to my early 50s, I see how my mid-life crises were exacerbated as I sensed a cooling of the ardour that had been driving me like an internal combustion engine for (by then) 40 years. And I recognise what a shock it is for middle aged men to lose some of the testosterone fuel that our bodies had always created for free.
Prostate cancer has opened me up to new awareness and new possibilities.
Eagerness is everywhere
The eagerness with which a germinating seed bursts out of its hard shell is astounding. Its first delicate, vulnerable and life-giving roots bravely penetrating the soil are a soft wonder. I am inspired by the sheer exuberance with which its first leaves unfurl and bask in the sun and begin making food for more growth.
What I now realise is that eagerness is everywhere, and it is a gift. It’s an expression of the universal life force and every living thing feels those eager urges in its own way.
Having grown up as a cisgendered man, I’m reminded that eagerness doesn’t have to manifest the way my male body did for all those years. It doesn’t have to be as urgent or as genitally focused as my youthful male energy. It can be slow and kind and tender. Eagerness can also be subtle. It might be infrequent. It can revel in unseen complexity, like those tendrils of roots humbly networking underground, invisibly enabling life.
The gift of both cancer and aging has been to widen my understanding of eagerness. And it has awakened my gratitude for this fundamentally generative energy in all of its forms. I’ve developed much more respect for my own love of life. I still call this “libido” but it goes well beyond sexual energy. It’s time for me to open up to other forms of eagerness and love of life. They are expressed differently from my old ways. This is where I want to build on my legacy of eagerness. And I don’t mean to exclude the bedroom.
Over the last year, I have joked a lot about my daily gardening and exercise routines as “erection replacement therapy.” Really it goes beyond that. Gardening is about celebrating the gift of life by husbanding the earth, creating conditions for life to flourish. And caring about my diet and fitness is about husbanding my new body, helping it to flourish in its new form with emptiness at the centre where a prostate used to be.
Learning about my blind spots in the bedroom
There is also a more directly sexual dimension to what I am learning. I own up to the fact that I have tended to measure sexual eagerness by direct physical manifestation. But for at least half of humanity, those manifestations are far more subtle than my own. “Forgive me,” I want to tell my partners from younger days, “my body taught me that sexual arousal is something very obvious.”
I am shocked to admit how poorly I recognised how much my life partner has shared my bodily eagerness for the last 39 years. I often unconsciously assumed she wasn’t as “into it” as me, if she didn’t show it my way. As if the horny male way of expressing interest is the only way. I acknowledge my blindness to her different ways, and I realise this is a lifelong learning path for me.
It’s a bit easier to see, now that my new body sometimes prefers to love softly than in a thrusting way. That helps me open to receiving all-over loving touch, and focus less on genitalia and orgasms. And my occasional returning erections remind me to explore all options. There is no single right way.
Letting that life force manifest in new ways
Eagerness is a precious gift. What is crucial to my recovery from prostate cancer as a man, is to free my own eagerness from a single track. It needs to flourish in my body and the wider world in all the myriad ways that are possible.
And to make space for all that is alive to flourish in even more myriads of ways.
Editor’s note: an edited version of this post also appears in Psychology Today