Why Victoria Cullen started A Touchy Subject

One of my most asked questions is how I fell into this line of research and work.

While I was running the Sexual Health and Design course at RMIT University I ran a series of interviews with people who had recently purchased a sex toy.

It turns out that many people buying a ‘sex toy’ were actually looking for a ‘sex solution’ for physical changes following a life event (child birth, menopause) or a medical intervention (medication for depression, cancer treatment).

A common theme was the lack of conversation and education around what was happening to their bodies.

Advice from healthcare was often too ‘clinical’ to translate into the fun, connecting sexual experience they wanted. Advice from Google was overwhelming in terms of choice, and not tailored to their specific needs and circumstance.

To try and find a balance between the clinical and the pleasurable, I set up a consultancy to match-make people to sexuality solutions for their individual needs.

One of my first clients were a couple three months following a nerve sparring robotic radical Prostatectomy (the surgical removal of the prostate using a robotic device intended to help preserve cavernous ‘erection’ nerve function).

They were distraught.

They hadn’t expected erectile dysfunction to mean there would be absolutely no physical response to arousal, or that nocturnal and morning erections would also be gone.

They were saddened by other losses they weren’t expecting. The loss of spontaneity, the loss of penile length and girth.

They were worried about whether incontinence might occur during sex.

By the time they came to see me they were barely initiating hand holding in case it led to more.

They had been told the nerve sparring procedure meant erections might return in a couple of years. But that was quite the long stretch of time, and what were they supposed to do in the meantime - and what if that didn’t happen?

They were also confused by the advice they’d received so far.

They had been told to try Viagra and see what happened. But they tried it twice with no results (adding even more insult to injury).

Next, they had been told to try a ‘penis pump’ or injections. Injections made their eyes water, so they decided on the pump first. But the one they found at the local sex shop had caused more harm than good, specifically, an incident of 'testicle suck-up’ (an experience that I now realise many men with chronic ED have unfortunately encountered with commercial pumps). And the ring they were given didn’t hold the erection up after pumping. More insult to injury.

That appointment was in 2015. Their story inspired my PhD research to find better solutions for people in a post-prostate world, and create an ongoing way to share research and practice to help others in the same situation.

Victoria Cullen