Open Access Research article

Feeling well and talking about sex: psycho-social predictors of sexual functioning after cancer

Janette Perz*, Jane M Ussher, Emilee Gilbert and The Australian Cancer and Sexuality Study Team

Author Affiliations

Centre for Health Research, University of Western Sydney, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith South 2751, Australia

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BMC Cancer 2014, 14:228  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-14-228

Published: 28 March 2014



Changes to sexual wellbeing are acknowledged to be a long-term negative consequence of cancer and cancer treatment. These changes can have a negative effect on psychological well-being, quality of life and couple relationships. Whilst previous conclusions are based on univariate analysis, multivariate research can facilitate examination of the complex interaction between sexual function and psycho-social variables such as psychological wellbeing, quality of life, and relationship satisfaction and communication in the context of cancer, the aim of the present study.


Six hundred and fifty seven people with cancer (535 women, 122 men) and 148 partners (87 women, 61 men), across a range of sexual and non-sexual cancers, completed a survey consisting of standardized measures of sexual functioning, depression and anxiety, quality of life, relationship satisfaction, dyadic sexual communication, and self-silencing, as well as ratings of the importance of sex to life and relationships.


Men and women participants, reported reductions in sexual functioning after cancer across cancer type, for both people with cancer and partners. Multiple regression analysis examined psycho-social predictors of sexual functioning. Physical quality of life was a predictor for men and women with cancer, and for male partners. Dyadic sexual communication was a predictor for women with cancer, and for men and women partners. Mental quality of life and depression were also predictors for women with cancer, and the lower self-sacrifice subscale of self-silencing a predictor for men with cancer.


These results suggest that information and supportive interventions developed to alleviate sexual difficulties and facilitate sexual renegotiation should be offered to men and women with both sexual and non-sexual cancers, rather than primarily focused on individuals with sexual and reproductive cancers, as is the case currently. It is also important to include partners in supportive interventions. Interventions aimed at improving sexual functioning should include elements aimed at improving physical quality of life and sexual communication, with a focus on psychological wellbeing also being important for women with cancer.

Cancer and sexuality; Psycho-social predictors; Sexual functioning; Quality of life; Communication