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Love and Awkwardness Intertwined

Mindful relationship and humour help couples beat the negative dynamics of ED

Four months after prostate cancer surgery, I was in the depths of severe erectile dysfunction according to the International Index of Erectile Function. It feels like throwing a man and his partner into a wasteland. What a blessing to have a partner with whom I can laugh, cry, connect, and learn. We have been fumbling, laughing, and loving our way into the new normal in our lovemaking.

Our experience is a cauldron within which humour, mindfulness, and relationship play out against shame, fear, and self-doubt. I would say "laboratory" but for the primal nature of the mental and emotional forces at play when a man loses the most obvious manifestation of his manhood.

Here’s an extract from my journal at that time:

“Really awkward conversations with Colleen about how our libidos are intertwined. What turns us on. How to be sexual without erections. Being with radical uncertainty and not blaming each other.” ( 21 June 2020)

Spontaneity when differently able: Mindfulness and preparation

My first problem was wanting sex to be spontaneous. Then my wife taught me a lesson many men could heed: while love and desire are spontaneous, there are practical aspects to making love that need mindfulness and preparation. I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t fully learn that lesson in our fertile years because my partner took more responsibility for practical aspects of birth control than I did.

Now, without spontaneous erections, I have a direct physical need to prepare for sex. I want to find the time of day when my body is most likely to sprout at least a bit of swelling. It turns out that happens best in the mornings. Then, if we get frisky, I need to have my trusty vacuum pump (VED) and ring close at hand to supplement what nature provides.

Like a plastic blimp in the bedroom

Erik Mclean/Unsplash
VED is a bit like a plastic blimp
Source: Erik Mclean/Unsplash

Now we are trying to bring the VED into our relationship. It’s a bit like trying to share your bed with your partner and a great big plastic zeppelin or blimp.

What is worse, I have to use a silicone ring as well. I’ve hived off the details and practical tips for fellow sufferers here.

Messy, fumbling, awkward: how heart, brain, and body respond to failure

Here we are, beginning to breathe heavily, not having had conventional sex for months since my surgery, and now I have to roll over, haul out this great big VED pump, slather myself with lubrication, and try to get pumping. Then there is an air leak and I’m rooting around trying to get errant pubic hairs out of the works.

Undignified. Messy. I feel about as unsexy as a man can feel.

The first time we try this I’m so caught up in the mechanics that I pump until I am blue in the face. The blood simply won’t flow where I desperately want it to go. Direct laboratory evidence of the power of mind and shame over bodily desire. We have to give up.

Messy and awkward: engaging past experience

In the aftermath of this failure, my wife delivers one of those life lessons I won’t easily forget:

“Remember when we were young and I used a diaphragm for birth control,” she says. “Don’t you remember how awkward and messy it was when I had to shove that ten-centimetre rubber disk into my intimate parts? Just so we could make love!”

I do remember. I remember how sometimes it would slip out of her fingers due to all the lubrication she had to spread around the circumference of what we called the “cap.” It was so tightly sprung that sometimes it would shoot halfway across the bed.

And the honest truth is this: I was so eager for what was coming next, that I barely noticed the awkwardness. I do remember being grateful to her for taking care of birth control, and admiring her calm presence. But most of those memories were blotted out by the sheer joy and delight of what we were able to co-create in the lovemaking that followed.

We have a clear precedent: it is completely OK to:

  • Plan and prepare
  • Get messy and awkward in service of a fulfilling sexual connection.

Laughter – the essential ingredient

Actually, getting that messy was kind of funny, if only I could see it. Having my penis, this universal symbol of male pride and power, flopping helplessly in a sea of lube and being chased like a lost sheep into the corral of the pump – it’s actually hilarious! In truth, all good sex is messy anyway.

Once we start laughing, the whole situation eases. Miraculously it also gets more sexy.

Again, my deep gratitude for having a partner who is wise, patient and persistent enough to hang in there with me through my awkwardness. Tolerating failed attempts, bringing mindfulness, remembering history, and seeing the humour. Eventually we are actually able to laugh together, fumble, and enjoy ourselves.

A deeper mental transformation

It begins to dawn on me that I need to get away from expecting my body to perform in a particular way. It is deeply unsettling to have my most primal reflexes simply cut off. But somewhere even deeper than that is a fundamental desire to connect. That core intention can find new ways to manifest in "the new normal."

It doesn’t have to look pretty or be configured the way it used to be, but we can still make love. I'm sure there is still a lot more for me to learn about mindfulness and loving relationship.

This post also appears at RecoveringMan along with more of my mental, emotional and medical backstory.

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