Navigating sexual health in cancer survivorship: a dyadic perspective

Jessica R. Gorman, Ellie Smith, Julia H. Drizin, Karen S. Lyons, S. Marie Harvey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Purpose: This qualitative study examined how young adult breast cancer survivors (YABCS) and their partners appraised and managed their sexual health and intimate relationships after cancer. Methods: We conducted concurrent, individual telephone interviews with 25 YABCS and their male partners. We utilized a thematic, inductive analysis to examine individual interviews, followed by analysis within and across couples to identify dyadic themes. We explored how themes mapped on to the Theory of Dyadic Illness Management to build a conceptual model specific to the sexual health challenges of young adult couples living with cancer. Results: Our analysis revealed five interconnected themes: (1) shared understanding of physical and psychological challenges of sexual health after cancer, (2) navigating role shifts and changes to sexual relationship, (3) getting through it as a team, (4) maintaining open communication, and (5) need for services and support for partners/caregivers and couples. Conclusion: Both survivors and their partners articulated physical (e.g., painful sex, decreased libido) and psychological (e.g., guilt, self-consciousness) challenges to their sexual health in survivorship. Our dyadic focus revealed a spectrum of ways that couples managed the changes to their relationships and sexual health, highlighting “open communication” and strategies for “working as a team” as critical. There is no “one size fits all” solution, as individuals and couples cope with and manage these challenges in different ways. Study results can inform couple-focused intervention strategies, such as creating shared understanding of sexual health after cancer and improving communication skills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5429-5439
Number of pages11
JournalSupportive Care in Cancer
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Breast cancer
  • Communication
  • Dyadic
  • Qualitative
  • Reproductive health
  • Young adult

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology


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