Constructions of sex and intimacy after cancer: Q methodology study of people with cancer, their partners, and health professionals

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Background: The increasing number of individuals living with cancer has led to a focus on the quality of life of survivors, and their families. Sexual wellbeing is a central component of quality of life, with a growing body of research demonstrating the association between cancer and changes to sexuality and intimacy. However, little is known about patient and professional understanding of cancer and sexuality post-cancer. This study was designed to explore the complex perspectives that people with personal and professional experience with cancer hold about sexuality in the context of cancer.Methods: An interview study using Q methodology was conducted with 44 people with cancer, 35 partners of a person with cancer and 37 health professionals working in oncology. Participants were asked to rank-order 56 statements about sexuality and intimacy after cancer and asked to comment on their rankings in a subsequent semi-structured interview. A by-person factor analysis was performed with factors extracted according to the centroid method with a varimax rotation.Results: A three-factor solution provided the best conceptual fit for the perspectives regarding intimacy and sexuality post-cancer. Factor 1, entitled " communication - dispelling myths about sex and intimacy" positions communication as central to the acceptance of a range of satisfying sexual and intimate practices post-cancer. Factor 2, " valuing sexuality across the cancer journey," centres on the theme of normalizing the experience of sex after cancer through the renegotiation of sex and intimacy: the development of alternative sexual practices. Factor 3, " intimacy beyond sex," presents the view that even though sex may not be wanted, desired, or even possible following cancer, quality of life and relationship satisfaction are achieved through communication and non-genital intimacy.Conclusions: This study has demonstrated the complexity of perspectives about sexuality and intimacy post cancer, which has practical implications for those working in cancer care and survivorship. Therapists and other health professionals can play an important role in ameliorating concerns surrounding sexual wellbeing after cancer, by opening and facilitating discussion of sexuality and intimacy amongst couples affected by cancer, as well as providing information that normalizes a range of sexual and intimate practices. © 2013 Perz et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.




Perz, J., Ussher, J. M., & Gilbert, E. (2013). Constructions of sex and intimacy after cancer: Q methodology study of people with cancer, their partners, and health professionals. BMC Cancer, 13.

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