By Ralph Blum
There is an aspect of being diagnosed with prostate cancer that has proved to be, for many men, quite literally, a life-saver, and that is being compelled to undergo a physical. For example, men who had always avoided getting regular physical exams learned that they had dangerously clogged arteries, making that checkup, literally, a life saving event. So that although prostate cancer is no day at the beach, and every treatment comes with a stiff price, there can be unexpected benefits. What I think of as “positive side effects.” Getting a check-up is one such.
The second positive side effect concerns the loss of sexual drive. Aka the loss of libdo. So is there life without libido? Wrong question. Better ask, “After a life lived entirely with sex as your objective, what happens when your libido is gone?”
I spent 24 months with no libido. When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, given my aversion to being sliced open, fried by radiation, or poisoned by chemotherapy, my choice of treatment was hormone blockade. At the same time, I was far from enthusiastic about becoming a chemical eunuch. So instead of the suggested three drug protocol—Proscar, Casodex, and Lupron—with the approval of my oncologist, Mark Scholz, I decided on “monotherapy,” a single drug treatment with Lupron. In less than four weeks my PSA had dropped from 18 o 5.3, so I knew that the Lupron was working. With no testosterone, however, my libido was zip. Nada.
A fate worse than death, right? Wrong. To my surprise, I didn’t feel defeated or “less of a man.” I realized it was not the end of the world. In fact, if not getting my libido back is my fate, well and good. Been there, done that. And then I got another big surprise: Being in this unfamiliar, hormonally uncharged space, permits a freedom I had not experienced during over half a century of full-blown libido. And a much richer emotional life with my partner. A new kind of intimacy.
In his play, Testosterone: How Prostate Cancer Made a Man out of Me, Hal Ackerman confessed that when he was on hormone blockade he found women’s bodies about as exciting as covered furniture. But through the wonders of Big Pharma, Ackerman discovered that having sex, love-making without libido, was a completely different and very rewarding experience: During their love-making, he focused totally on his partner’s pleasure instead of on his own.
When I was doing research for Invasion of the Prostate Snatchers, I interviewed a number of men who expressed their own surprise as the result of having no libido. As one man put it, “Remove the ‘slam-bam-thank-you, Ma’am’ routine and what’s left? I guess you could call it taking pleasure in giving pleasure.”
Now there’s a positive side effect if there ever was one.
About Ralph Blum (1932-2016):
Ralph H. Blum was a cultural anthropologist and author, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard University with a degree in Russian Studies. His reporting from the Soviet Union, the first of its kind for The New Yorker (1961—1965), included two three-part series on Russian cultural life. He wrote for various magazines, among them Reader’s Digest, Cosmopolitan, and Vogue. Blum has published three novels and five nonfiction books. He lived with prostate cancer, without radical intervention, for twenty years.