Couples counseling, whether carried out online or through face-to-face therapy, improves the sex lives of men who have received treatment for prostate cancer, a new study says.

The findings suggest couples counseling provides benefits to patients' sex lives beyond those brought by medications, including erectile dysfunction pills.

Despite efforts to make prostate cancer treatments less destructive to men's sex lives, most men who are treated end up with erection problems. For example, a recent study found about 60 percent of men with prostate cancer who had their prostate glands removed had not recovered their sexual function two years after their treatment. Many also lost some desire for sex and had a diminished ability to reach or enjoy orgasms.

The new study involved 115 couples. The man in each relationship was a prostate cancer survivor whose treatment had taken place less than two years ago.

At the study's start, half of these couples either participated in three face-to-face sex therapy sessions or interacted on a website that presented the same information and provided email feedback from a counselor. The other half of these couples waited three months to start counseling.

A third group of 71 couples who lived too far away for face-to-face therapy also received Internet-based therapy.

Both partners were asked to complete questionnaires that assessed sexual function and satisfaction before starting counseling, after the sessions, and at six months and one year after the sessions ended.

Both face-to-face therapy and Internet-based therapy improved men's sexual function and satisfaction, the couples' questionnaires showed.

And when a man's score improved, the woman's did as well. Even one year after the end of the counseling sessions, couples were still better off than before the program began.

While both types of counseling improved couples' sex lives, an Internet-based program may be easier to implement than one that is conducted face-to-face, said study researcher Leslie Schover, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

“An Internet-based treatment has the advantage of costing less in counselor time and allowing expert health care providers to help cancer survivors who live too far away from a city or cancer center,” Schover said.

The study appears today (Sept. 26) in the journal Cancer.

Pass it on: Couples counseling may improve the sex lives of prostate cancer survivors.

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