By Michael Ward

Here’s what I got when I tracked my involuntary nocturnal tumescence for the year after my radical prostatectomy. In plain language, that’s “how hard was my morning wood.”

It was useful during my recovery because I didn’t have full natural erections and was losing heart. I was working at penile rehabilitation, but began to wonder if it was working. Progress was so – up and down – that I got confused whether or not I was improving. So I read up online about different ways of grading erection hardness, and started charting mine, until I could see the trend emerging.

Erectile function: one of the big 3 recoveries after prostate cancer

The background to this was my goal to Remove, Recover, Recover. That’s Remove cancer, Recover urine control, and Recover erectile function. Simple enough, or would it be? Certainly, I wanted the cancer completely gone and to keep my ability to hold urine and piss as I always had. And that last recovery—erections, that glorious phenomenon that I discovered as a child, and pretty much took for granted throughout my life—erections were something that I never wanted to lose. Nor do I ever want to give them up!

I found it was all a bit more complicated after my prostate surgery. Please read the full story. Meantime here is the way data tracking has helped me.

Nocturnal tumescence after prostatectomy – phantom and real data

After my radical prostatectomy surgery, the doctors seemed especially keen to know about the return of “nocturnal tumescence” or those night-time erections during REM sleep, that give us “morning wood” as it’s often called. Though I was getting them regularly, they weren’t very strong, and I was shocked that my life-long instinct about emerging erections was totally unreliable.

Often, I felt as though there was an erect cock down there under the bed sheets, only to find a flaccid penis sleeping more soundly than I was. This “phantom erection” is a funny phenomenon that many of us who have had prostatectomies experience!

What’s a reliable measure of recovering erectile function?

I’d been reading accounts by other men of long term ED after prostatectomy and I was afraid I might reach a plateau. My erectile function had been improving and then it kind of levelled off and I wondered if it would get any better. I was trying everything – daily Cialis, experimenting with different kinds of sexual stimulation, using a vacuum erectile device (VED) – but all this activity felt like it might be masking the true recovery of my body – or that the recovery was failing.

I decided that involuntary nocturnal tumescence would be a more realistic measure of recovery. After all, it isn’t affected by my feelings or actions – I am asleep at the time it happens. So I began tracking what level of “morning wood” was present when I woke as a measure that somehow felt more honest to me.

[Editor’s note: There is support for this approach from clinical researchers.]

Data trend gave me hope

Worried that my recovery might be taking too long and concerned that I wasn’t recovering my erections quickly enough, I began to plot these nighttime occurrences when I was aware of them, drawing my data from a diary that I keep on my recovery.

The data points went up and down every day, but it wasn’t long before an overall trend emerged. This was the remarkable outcome of graphing my own involuntary nocturnal tumescence – I immediately saw improvement. Here is the full set of data:

tracking involuntary nocturnal tumescence after radical prostatectomy

The graph that gave me hope

Of course the dotted line only emerged over time, but the upward trend definitely helped me keep on at all the penile rehab stuff, and to keep my hopes up. Eventually, on Day 274 post-prostatectomy, I recorded the first 100% erection – back up to full pre-surgery hardness!

I am one of the lucky ones

I’ve just celebrated the one-year anniversary of my prostatectomy surgery, and night-time erections have returned to normal. One of my doctors proclaimed that we hit the “trifecta” and eliminated the cancer, restored urinary function, and brought erectile functioning back to what it was before the surgery (albeit with the help of Tadalafil).

There is nothing like a great orgasm (or even a not-so-great orgasm) to lift our spirits and outlook on life. Masturbate like a teenager, chase the wife around the house like a newlywed, self-pleasure with a sex toy, and hold no shame for failing to get hard; that can happen with persistence and time, with good doses of patience and humor, and soulful self-love!

More posts about erectile function

Read more from survivors and their partners

Editor’s note: New wearable erection tracking technology actually works

News flash (July 2023) from the Penis Project podcast about a data tracking cock ring that allows you to measure nocturnal erections. Here is what they promise:

Not only does it connect to your phone and give you information about nocturnal erections it can also be worn during sex for extra titillation for your partner and it is made of a very special product that means it still lets the atrial blood flow in whilst wearing it, this means no more blue tinge to the shaft and it is safe to wear all night (most cock rings can only be left on for 30 min)

More info here (original podcast) and the product is now on the market. In November 2023 I bought the cheaper model without the data logging and I liked it. In December 2023 the manufacturers sent me the data logging version to try out and here is my one month report – I found it really worked both as a data logger and as an erection support.

September 2023 – Here is a similar sounding device. The manufacturer says:

The Adam Sensor is a ring-like device that you wear at the base of your penis just before going to bed. The sensor is small, compact and completely non-obstructive so after a few minutes you will not even notice that you are wearing it.

While you are asleep the sensor continuously monitors changes in penile tumescence (the engorgement of the penis) and wirelessly transmits the data to the Adam mobile app, installed on your phone. When you wake up (hopefully after 8h) you simply end the measurement and remove the sensor.

Our smart algorithms then analyse the data and our app produces a report with the results of the measurement.

For the manufacturer’s blog please see