Prostate cancer surgery, it's an odd one isn't it?
You go into surgery feeling normal and healthy. You leave feeling traumatised from the waist down.
It's the reverse of most medical treatments. Most health malfunctions start with you feeling rubbish. Then you get diagnosed. Then a white-caped hero takes out the offending article. Job done, life better.
Most of my clients see me for the first time about 3-6 months after prostate surgery. They are pretty shell-shocked. They're looking back thinking :
'...what the hell just happened?!'
None of them deny the major upside. The cancer is out. That's bloody brilliant. Plus, it's extraordinary how little time it takes to do the procedure. Most of them are back home 48 hours after robotic prostatectomy. 2018 really is the best time to be alive.
But let's not downplay the downsides.
The first is incontinence. That's usually what's on your mind first and foremost. You've got to remember to do the exercises the physio taught you. You hope you're squeezing the right bits. Then there's the rude awakening that men's toilets have bins... a serious design flaw.
Over time, the pads get smaller and lighter, you eventually move down to that slick little black number. But a lot more downstairs has changed...
The next thing to solve? Erections. They're gone. You might still feel aroused in exactly the same way. But it's like making a phone call, and your old best mate isn't picking up - in fact - he's hanging up!
It's also more likely than not that there are other sexual changes too. Pleasure in your body might feel completely different, or absent. I've had a client describe a period of feeling 'sexually dead' after his op. I've had many clients who left with physical loss too - the loss of length and girth.
No one expects how this is really going to make them feel.
Before surgery, all you hear is 'cancer' and you go into survival mode. It is very normal to hope you will be one of the lucky ones who won't have any side effects. There is no shame that you have now got side effects. Almost every single man undergoing prostate cancer treatment, whatever he chooses, will experience side effects to his sex life.
That does not mean it's all doom and gloom though. There's a lot you can do.
While you're not on a predictable path, it's not one without hope, options, even adventure. It all depends on how you approach it.
With change, comes opportunity, and there is often potential to get back what you've lost.
So, what do I do to help?
I help men and couples regain what sexual function they can, while having a great sex life regardless of sexual function.
For a lot of people - of any age - sex and their sexual function are very important elements to a quality life.
To have two parts of your life that have always been there, suddenly disappear is very strange. It's like waking up after a major operation not being able to walk or play sports.
And like learning how to walk again, it takes time and know-how. You need a plan. You need to persevere and do a little something often. You wouldn't just leave it and hope for the best.
And remember, you can enjoy different sports that don't involve your legs - maybe you'll now become a champion at wheelchair basketball. There are always workarounds.
World renowned urologist (and Twitter enthusiast) Associate Professor Declan Murphy gets it. That's why he includes a free consultation with me for all his private prostatectomy patients. I consult from his rooms in Melbourne, Australia. I also conduct consults via Skype. And I sell rehabilitation products with training through my website, A Touchy Subject.
My work and research.
How did you end up specialising in sexual recovery?
I studied psychology at University College London (Psychology Bsc, Cognitive Sciences Msc). During my Masters degree I discovered a passion for applying psychology to the design of healthcare products.
I fell into researching sexual health products quite by accident.
One day, back in 2013, I was tinkering with a 3D printing machine in Cophenhagen, Denmark.
3D printers are printers that print objects rather than paper. You create a 3D design on your computer, send it to the printer, and melted plastic is printed out of a pen in rows to create an object.
I was interested in how 3D printers could affect human behaviour. What would happen if every person had their own 3D printer??
My open-minded Scandinavian design friends suggested I look to history.
What have humans always done with every other piece of innovative technology...?
The Internet, DVDs, even electricity (for more on this, watch this talk I gave on the subject at a technology and design conference)
They were all driven by humans looking to solve their sexual challenges and needs first.
This led me on a fascinating journey to understand the intersection between design, psychology, sexuality, technology and health.
What are you currently doing?
- I am doing my PhD on Design solutions for Sexual Rehabilitation and Prostate Cancer at RMIT University (current candidate)
- I co-founded the world's first Sexual Health Design studio in a university environment (featured in The Age and The BBC)
- I partnered with Urology Surgeon, Declan Murphy, to deliver a complementary consultation to his private radical prostatectomy patients at his practice, Cancer Specialists.