12 January 2021: Let me share some joy in difficult times: I feel like I have lost my virginity all over again! It has taken a lot of love and awkwardness to bring the ungainly vacuum erectile device (VED) into the bedroom. At times it’s a struggle for erotic connection to triumph over all the mechanics. But it feels deeply worthwhile. My natural erectile function is healing slowly, but not yet sufficient for penetrative sex. I am grateful for a resilient, creative marriage and the simple drug independent support of my Vacurect pump.

More often than not, treatment for prostate cancer upsets the nerves that enable the small but significant delight of an erection. Those nerves might recover over up to 3 years. In the meantime regular penile rehabilitation prevents the natural erectile tissues from atrophy. But a drought in sexual connection with a one’s partner can cause the relationship to atrophy.

VED enables deep reconnection

After almost a year of erectile dysfunction, I am glowing and melting with gratitude to “lose” my virginity for the second time. The grin across my face is matched by a boyish thrill. I have a spring in my step and a deep warmth in my heart. We’re enjoying as many joyful celebratory hugs as any partner can bear.

Much as we have loved the intimacy of softer pleasures and all-over non-penetrative lovemaking, a year is the longest intercourse drought either of us has experienced since puberty. Also the first fumbling attempts were so awkward that orgasms were out of reach.

The return of orgasmic penetrative sexual intercourse feels like the biggest Christmas present ever. There is something completely magical about human bodies intertwined so intimately, touching all over internally and externally. And there is a way our bodies are primed to move in the throes of passion: it is something one can do without. But it is deeply satisfying to recreate “the beast with two backs.”

Perhaps the gift is all the more precious in that it is so ephemeral.

Living with the ups and downs

The gift of conventional intercourse has returned a couple of times to our love life over the holidays. And for every recent “success” there must have been half a dozen “failures” where my erections were too weak or unreliable for penetrative sex – over and above the eight months where we didn’t even try.

These so-called “failures” require my sex role and attitude to take a 180 degree pivot – from giver to receiver, from hard to soft, from confident instigator to loving with zero expectations.

After all, making love without an erection is not a failure! This is all about being differently able. I am finding who the new “me” is that is able to make love to my partner with a soft body. In recent months we have laughed and learned a lot about erectionless sex. These are life lessons I never want to lose, particularly as aging takes its inevitable toll.

Practical details – using a vacuum pump to support sexual intercourse

My recovery is at a confusing stage where I sometimes get brief natural erections but they don’t last more than a few moments. I also find that the drugs currently prescribed as a panacea for erectile dysfunction (such as Viagra and Cialis, in a category known as PDE5 inhibitors) haven’t worked for me. They make my head feel funny but have no discernible impact on what happens between my legs.

So I have invested in lots of physiotherapy and a vacuum erectile device(VED) which I use for regular penile rehab. Now we are using the same vacuum pump for intercourse. For this purpose I use a tight ring at the base of my erection to retain the blood and keep it firm. See Resources section for “how to” details.

The year ahead

As the new year begins I am deeply grateful my cancer remains at bay. My latest PSA test this week  shows undetectable levels of cancer markers in my blood – yay! I am also learning to live with my new and softer body. And I’m challenged to embrace more fluidity in my sexuality and my sex roles.

Perhaps the bigger lesson is about living with things not being the way I want them to be – and making the best of life on the terms that are available.