By Dr Rhys Leeming

Men do talk if the conditions are right. It’s not just me that is benefiting from communicating more openly about intimate and awkward subjects. Here’s how a bunch of mates built on my experience to share some of their own challenges.

I have a group of mates that I worked with for 25 years at a research institute. We are all in our 60’s now and have retired in dribs and drabs over the last five or more years. We catch up for coffee every Thursday and sometimes go for a surf or swim or mountain bike ride in conjunction with the coffee and the obligatory solving of the world’s problems.

Over the last two and a half years, they have all been very interested, supportive and sympathetic to my prostate cancer journey. They are very good friends! As time has passed, they’ve become more and more open about their own issues. But nothing quite prepared me for the discussion we had last Thursday.

Biking together through wild mountains

Early last week, five of our group loaded up our mountain bikes and headed up to Derby in north eastern Tasmania for a three day trip. It’s a four hour journey often through wild and mountainous country. Derby has become internationally recognised for its mountain biking. The old tin mining township, which 10 years ago was almost deserted, is now more like a bustling ski village. There’s a network of trails that extend to the Bay of Fires on Tasmania’s east coast. This was our fifth such excursion and a great chance to spend more than just a morning with each other. Sometimes we camp alongside the river and other times, like this one, we luxuriate in one of the swank AirBnB’s that have sprung up.

So last Thursday we’d had two days riding, a couple of nights out at the local pub for dinner and a lot of fun generally. We were sitting down to breakfast ahead of tidying up, moving out of the AirBnB and spending a last morning riding the tracks and trails. Without any prompting from me, the conversation turned to health matters.

Breakfast conversation on sexual health

I was asked some probing questions about what I was going to do about my rising PSA and there followed the most amazing discussion about incontinence and erectile function.

They weren’t talking about mine. It seems that a couple of them find they have the odd drip and/or accident too. And that they found it helpful to talk about their sexual health, quite openly and without the usual jokes and defences.

Dealing with urine leakage, they asked me about that trick that Alex told us about on the Facebook group Sex, Love and Prostate Cancer (see resources page). You know, the trick to fully empty the urethra where you press your fingers on your perineum and slide them forward and up to literally squeeze out the last few drops.

Three of the group, not including me, said they also had much more difficulty with erectile function these days. “So Rhys, what can I do about that”? And remember, this is a men’s conversation over breakfast, not an alcohol fuelled, half-joking ramble at the pub. The conversation finished up with all my mates thanking me for being the catalyst for their new-found bravery in opening up to each other. I must say, it was a very endearing moment.

What it takes for men to talk openly about sexual health

Conversations like these don’t burst forth out of thin air. Guys in particular hold personal stuff close. But by being open and honest with your friends, they too will respond in kind eventually. And that is very much to the benefit of all.