Sperling Prostate Center

The Post-Prostatectomy Sexual Problems You Never Hear About

UPDATE: 12/7/2023
Originally published 4/25/2017

September 2023 brought some good news to prostate cancer patients who are considering radical prostatectomy but are worried about sexual side effects. A study out of Australia offers a simple antidote that can help reverse treatment related erectile dysfunction. It’s called exercise, and news of the study was announced by Professor Daniel Galvao at the Aug. 2023 American Society of Clinical Oncology Breakthrough conference in Yokohama, Japan.

Prof. Galvao is certainly qualified to address this. In his academic research at Edith Cowan University, his Exercise Medicine Research Institute programs have developed and tested targeted exercise interventions that work to change treatment outcomes. He has published nearly 200 papers on exercise medicine/oncology, and his most recent presentation focused on 100 post-treatment PCa patients who were divided into three groups: standard care with no exercise, standard care with added supervised resistance and aerobic exercise, and the same as the second group but with additional psychosexual therapy.

According to a news source, “Those who exercised saw erectile function increase by 5.1 points compared to 1.0 point for the standard care group, while intercourse satisfaction increased by 2.2 points with exercise compared to 0.2 points with usual care.” The story noted that psychosexual therapy with exercise did not provide additional benefit.

The moral is, after prostate cancer treatment, why wait? Get moving, build muscle, and let the sexual improvement begin!


It is universally understood that the radical prostatectomy (RP) patient who has immediate return to baseline erectile function is a very rare case. The need to wear a catheter for several days to 2 weeks is itself a deterrent to having an erection. Even men who undergo nerve sparing robot-assisted laparascopic RP can expect a best-case scenario of an erection sufficient for intercourse in less than a month. The more common range for post-RP ED is 6-18 months, with or without the assistance of oral medication, injections or a vacuum erection device. And sadly, some men never regain spontaneous or natural erections.

ED is commonly known because it occurs, even if briefly, after the majority of operations. It happens because the neurovascular bundles that control erection literally adjoin the outer edges of the prostate capsule, so even careful surgeons who can spare the nerves means they still cause disruption as they tug and tease the delicate fibers away from physical contact with the gland. Nerves don’t like to be disturbed, and it may take them a while to regenerate their ability to transmit signals. Nonetheless, informed patients accept the risk of ED as a necessary trade-off for hoping to “get all the cancer out.”

What isn’t often talked about is the less common – but very real – sexual side effects of total gland removal. There is a considerable body of literature on sexually related side effects and the impact they can have on a man’s and his partner’s pleasure.

Aside from ED, published literature on post-prostatectomy identifies the following risks[i]:

  • Performance-related urinary incontinence (i.e. embarrassing leakage of urine during arousal or orgasm)
  • Different experience of orgasm due to lack of ejaculate
  • Inability to have an orgasm (This is usually more psychological than physical because the nerves that control orgasm are located in the spine and not directly affected by gland removal, and men can experience orgasm without a hard-on. However, a surgical trauma that makes orgasm impossible cannot be ruled out)
  • Pain during orgasm
  • Penile shortening or changed shape
  • Peyronie’s disease (a curvature of the penis due to scar tissue in the penile connective tissue; though only about 26 out of 100,000 men are diagnosed with Peyronie’s, it appears more common in RP cases)

These treatment risks seem to happen less frequently than ED, but it is hard to pin down statistics because men may not report such conditions, and doctors might not think to ask. In fact, it may not even occur to patients before surgery that there are other components of their sexuality besides a hard-on which might be affected. There is some consolation in the knowledge that with time, medication, outpatient interventions and exercises to strengthen the Kegel/pelvic floor muscles, most of these effects improve or resolve altogether. The issue here is that men are not even told about them beforehand, or asked about them afterward. Both the man and his partner should be informed about the potential need to adapt their intimacy practices after RP for some period of time, be it short or long.

The development of focal therapy such as the Sperling Prostate Center’s Focal Laser Ablation (FLA) was a response to the global recognition that prostate cancer is often an overtreated disease. As such, it has left countless men struggling with diminished quality of life and self-image, and often collateral damage to their sexual relationships. The appeal of FLA lies in the middle ground it offers between no treatment (Active Surveillance) and whole gland treatment (RP and radiotherapy) with its side effect risks. In our experience, there is close to zero risk of sexual and urinary harm thanks to the ability to see, track and confirm precise delivery of laser energy to ablate (destroy) the tumor.

Thus, not only do our patients avoid ED, but also the other side effects listed above while gaining verifiable control of their tumor without sacrificing future treatment options. For more information, contact the Sperling Prostate Center.

[i] Fode M, Serefoglu EC, Albersen M, Sønksen J. Sexuality following radical prostatectomy: is restoration of erectile function enough? Sex Med Rev. 2017 Jan;5(1):110-119.


About Dr. Dan Sperling

Dan Sperling, MD, DABR, is a board certified radiologist who is globally recognized as a leader in multiparametric MRI for the detection and diagnosis of a range of disease conditions. As Medical Director of the Sperling Prostate Center, Sperling Medical Group and Sperling Neurosurgery Associates, he and his team are on the leading edge of significant change in medical practice. He is the co-author of the new patient book Redefining Prostate Cancer, and is a contributing author on over 25 published studies. For more information, contact the Sperling Prostate Center.

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