As I discussed in the previous edition of this blog, Lance Armstrong’s miraculous recovery from testicular and brain cancer helped to dramatically reduce the stigma surrounding what some used to coyly refer to as ‘male cancers’. One of the biggest consequences of the aggressive treatments that Armstrong underwent in 1998 had the effect of rendering the father of two impotent.
There is a lot written about the impact on men’s genitals of riding long training miles in the saddle, and consequently on their ability to have an erection and function sexually.
Sexual Dysfunction is a big issue for people with mental health problems. Mostly we simply lose interest in sex, just as we lose interest in much of what is pleasurable in life. This, and the inability to become aroused, causes a whole host of psychological problems, as well as putting strain on personal relationships which will already be under pressure from other troublesome symptoms of a wide range of maladies.
There are other problems that come under the banner of sexual dysfunction, too, but are less well-known, despite having dangerous and disastrous medical and emotional consequences. I have written about the impact of impulsivity on people with mood swing disorders and those around them. Irresponsible spending sprees resulting in debt and all the strain on relationships that can cause as well as the regret and guilt that the Big Spender feels later when the feelings of invincibility and super powers crumble away to the desolation of depression wreak havoc on the lives of sufferers and their friends and family.
Some of the most serious consequences of impulsive behaviour come in the arena of sexual promiscuity. Lack of awareness of consequences, the magnetic attraction to forms of behaviour, and the feeling that everything is possible and positive lead to unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases as well as the strain put upon otherwise faithful, exclusive, personal relationships that are damaged by people (like me) who have something as innocuous – sounding as a mood swing disorder.
A person’s sex life is private, right? It is that province of our lives that we may brag about, confide in our friends about, but we draw a line at discussing such issues openly, like they were just another symptom or side effect, like weight gain or drowsiness.
How far should we take this notion of privacy? It is true that people with severe and enduring medical problems, both mental and/or physical are forced (an apt description, I feel) to relinquish much of their dignity, privacy and choices as a result of both their symptoms and their behaviour. Any of you who are not sure about this I suggest you visit a ward in your nearest hospital (actually a corridor in the emergency department will do just as well) to see what I mean. Hardier souls may wish to spend an instructive hour or two in the Day Room of any number of psychiatric institutions to see what I’m getting at.
So, if patients’ privacy is already compromised by treatment it’s easier to raise issues of sexual indiscretion. Then what about those of us who are living our lives in the heart of the community, well thought of folk who work in responsible jobs, and are even responsible for looking after their own, and others’ off spring?
This topic is hard enough for psychiatrists to raise with their patients – mine hasn’t done yet – never mind for those of us who are prone to become caught up in the ecstasy of the moment, and come to regret their actions.
For once I am not suggesting an approach, much less an answer as to how to address this issue. But I think that it is important enough to start a conversation about it.
Tell me what you think. That, at least, would be a start.
The Flaw in Paganism
Drink and dance and laugh and lie,
Love the reeling midnight through,
For tommorow we shall die!
(But, alas, we never do.)
Dorothy Parker (1893 – 1967)