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Can you come without a prostate

Sex and erection problems after treatment for prostate cancer

Prostate cancer treatments can affect your sex life. Some treatments can damage the nerves that you need to get an erection. Other treatments can affect the levels of hormones needed to get and maintain an erection.  

Even if you can't get a full erection, you can still have a sex life. There are several treatments that may help you but not everyone chooses to have treatment. Treatments might include:

  • drug treatments such as tablets and creams
  • vacuum pumps
  • implants

Sex therapy and counselling can also help.

How prostate cancer surgery affects your sexuality?

Surgery to remove the prostate gland is called radical prostatectomy. This treatment can affect your sex life in different ways.

Damage to the nerves used during an erection

Radical prostatectomy can damage the nerves you need to get an erection. Nerve sparing surgery can help lower this risk. But not everyone is suitable for this type of surgery. Nerve sparing surgery means that your surgeon removes the cancer without cutting or damaging the nerves. But if your cancer is growing close to the nerves, they will have to remove them.

Some men will get back their ability to have erections. But this can take anything between 3 months to 3 years. And some men will need help to get an erection for the rest of their lives.

Ejaculation problems

After a radical prostatectomy, you no longer ejaculate semen. This is because the prostate gland and 2 glands called the seminal vesicles are removed. Your testicles will continue to make sperm cells but they will be reabsorbed back into your body. So you are still able to have an orgasm, but this is a dry orgasm.

Some men say that a dry orgasm feels normal. But others find them less intense and pleasurable. The loss of a visible ejaculation can also be significant for some people.

Anal sex

A radical prostatectomy can also change the way anal sex feels if you are the receiving partner. Some men find the penis rubbing against the prostate gland pleasurable. So if the prostate is no longer there, anal sex might feel different.  

How hormone therapy and radiotherapy affect your sexuality?

Hormone therapy lowers the amount of testosterone in the body. This affects your ability to have and maintain an erection. It can also change the intensity of the orgasms.

Radiotherapy to the prostate can also damage the nerves that control getting an erection. This is usually a more delayed side effect. Men can develop erection problems within 3 to 5 years after finishing treatment.

How high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) and cryotherapy affect your sexuality?

HIFU and cryotherapy usually cause fewer problems than surgery or radiotherapy. But there is still a risk of erection problems with these treatments. Researchers are still looking into these treatments and their long term side effects.  

Treatments for sexual problems

There are different treatments available to help you manage sexual problems. Talk through your options with a doctor or specialist. Ask them to refer you to an Erectile Dysfunction Clinic if they are not able to give you this specialist advice.  

Penile or erectile dysfunction rehabilitation

Treatments for sexual problems are usually part of a programme called penile rehabilitation. This is also called erectile dysfunction rehabilitation. The aim of penile rehabilitation is to:

  • maintain blood flow to the penis
  • reduce damage to the muscle and tissue in the penis
  • provide a stimulus for erections

A penile rehabilitation programme includes:

  • counselling and sex therapy
  • healthy living
  • tablets
  • vacuum pumps
  • creams
  • injections or pellets
  • implants

Why is penile or erectile dysfunction rehabilitation important

Whether you are single, or in a relationship, you should have the opportunity to discuss penile rehabilitation.  Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse even if you are not sexually active, or don’t plan to be. This is because penile rehabilitation has benefits in terms of keeping the penis healthy.

Using and stimulating the penis keeps the tissues active and prevents them from becoming inflexible.

Rehabilitation should start before or soon after your prostate cancer treatment.

Counselling and sex therapy

Talking to your partner about your erection difficulties can help. Or it may help to talk to a close friend if you are not in a relationship.

Counsellors or therapists can help if you’re worried about anything to do with your sex life and sexuality. You can be referred by your GP to a counsellor or therapist within the NHS. You might need to go on a waiting list to see them.

Talk to your GP to find out what is available in your area. Your local hospital or your local Erectile Dysfunction Clinic might have this service.

Healthy living

Making changes to how you live your life can help you feel better and improve your sex life. Being active and having a healthy weight can improve your interest in sex and help you get an erection. Stopping smoking and cutting down on alcohol can also improve erections.

Some studies have shown that pelvic floor exercises can also help erection problems. The pelvic floor muscles are the sling of muscles in between your legs that run from the tailbone to the pubic bone. These muscles support the bladder and bowel.

Taking tablets

The drugs used to treat erection problems include:

  • tadalafil (Cialis)
  • sildenafil citrate (Viagra)
  • vardenafil (Levitra)
  • avanafil (Spedra)

These belong to a group of drugs called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE 5) inhibitors. They work by increasing blood flow to the penis. For the drugs to work, men need to be aroused and have some sort of sexual stimulation. In other words, the drugs won’t cause an immediate erection, some foreplay is usually needed.

As drugs work best in men who have sexual desire, they might not help some men who are having hormone therapy. But some specialists believe that they are still worth a try if you would like to give them a go.

Talk to your doctor about the best PDE 5 drug for you and the best way to take it. Funding for some of these drugs is limited on the NHS. So your GP might only be able to prescribe a limited amount. If this is the case and you are able to, ask your doctor how you can buy these privately.

Possible side effects of PDE 5 inhibitors include:

  • back pain
  • indigestion
  • headaches and dizziness
  • feeling or being sick

Vacuum pumps

Vacuum pumps are also called vacuum erection devices (VEDs). The pump fits over the penis and draws blood into the penis to form an erection.

You can then put a soft plastic ring called a constriction ring around the base of your penis. The ring keeps the erection firm. You shouldn’t leave the ring on for more than 30 minutes. As the ring restricts blood flow, using it for longer can damage the tissues.

Vacuum pumps can work well with practice, but they don't suit everyone. It’s worth knowing that the pump can cause the penis to have a blue tinge, this is normal. You can use a vacuum pump without the ring to exercise the penis as an important part of penile rehabilitation. 

Your doctor might suggest you use the vacuum pump in combination with PDE 5 drugs. Or you might have:

  • the vacuum pump alone
  • the pump in combination with other treatments such as injections


Your doctor might suggest you use alprostadil cream. It is also called Vitaros. You use an applicator to put this cream onto the opening of the penis. You usually get an erection within 5 to 30 minutes. The erection can last for 1 to 2 hours. 

Injections or pellets

Injection or pellets also contain the drug alprostadil.

Injections are also known as Caverject or Viridal Duo. You put the injection into the shaft of the penis. Or if you have a partner, you might prefer them to do it. Your doctor or specialist nurse will show you how to do this. You usually get an erection within 15 minutes of having the injection. The erection can last 30 to 40 minutes.

Pellets containing alprostadil are called MUSE. They are about the size of a grain of rice. You put them in the opening of your penis, using a small plastic device. The pellet is absorbed into the surrounding tissue. You usually get an erection within 10 minutes. The erection can last up to 60 minutes.


Implants are usually only used if other treatments haven't worked. Implants or penile prostheses are put into the penis during a short operation. There 2 main types of implants:

  • inflatable implants. These are the most common type
  • malleable implants

Inflatable implants are made up of 2 or 3 cylinders, a pump and a small bag of saline. Your surgeon puts:

  • the cylinders in the penis
  • the pump into your scrotum
  • and a small bag of saline may be put behind in your tummy (abdomen)

Malleable implants are 2 flexible rods that your surgeon puts into the penis. Your penis will be erect all the time, but the implant has joints that allow you to position your penis. You can position your penis up for sexual intercourse and down to pass urine.  

Other sexual problems

You may also be worried about the loss of interest in sex (libido) and infertility after prostate cancer treatment. 

Last reviewed: 

03 Oct 2022

Next review due: 

03 Oct 2025

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