Prostate cancer is often referred to as a “couple’s disease.” Prostate cancer and its treatments can have a significant negative impact on sexual quality of life, not only for patients but also for an estimated >1 million partners in the U.S. alone. A series of new studies examined the impact of prostate cancer on sexual health and quality of life for partners of patients with prostate cancer.1,2
These studies found that sexual side effects from prostate cancer treatment often cause stress on the relationship. Many couples face challenges communicating openly about the sexual problems from prostate cancer treatment. Some partners experience grief over the loss of familiar sexual activity and an ongoing need for intimacy in their relationship. Some partners express feeling “invisible” in their relationship (e.g., their needs for intimacy are overlooked) or in the healthcare setting (e.g., unable to ask healthcare providers questions about the sexual changes). Partners may also feel conflicted about prioritizing sexual needs in the face of a cancer diagnosis and treatment.
In addition, both patients with prostate cancer and their partners express common feelings about the sexual impact of prostate cancer treatments. One of these concerns is not enough counseling about sexual side effects of treatment from doctors. Many couples express a desire for additional support as they struggle with establishing a “new normal” in their sexual relationship.
These new studies also identified a few strategies that are helpful for couples facing sexual problems after prostate cancer treatment. One helpful strategy is openly communicating about the sexual problems that are occurring, which helps some couples to maintain or re-establish emotional and/or physical intimacy. Another helpful strategy is to expand the sexual repertoire and find new ways of being physically intimate with each other. In addition, an important strategy is to identify additional help and support. This can come in many different forms, ranging from medical help from urologists specializing in sexual medicine, to sex therapy, individual or couples counseling, or joining a support group (see our list).
A Questionnaire to Assess Sexual Concerns in Partners of Patients with Prostate Cancer- Female (SHIPPP-F)
The results of these studies were used to design a new questionnaire, called the Sexual Concerns in Partners of Patients with Prostate Cancer- Female (SHIPPP-F). The purpose of the questionnaire is to evaluate sexual quality of life for female partners of patients with prostate cancer, to determine how they are doing and identify areas where more help would be useful. This questionnaire was tested in a study including 200 female partners of patients with prostate cancer from across the U.S.
Additional research is planned to study the impact of prostate cancer on sexual quality of life for male partners of patients with prostate cancer. In the future, the investigators plan to create and test a version of the questionnaire for male partners (SHIPPP- M).
If you are a female partner of a patient with prostate cancer and wish to try out the questionnaire, you can download and compare your scores below with the scores of other female partners who participated in the study. On this questionnaire, higher scores indicate worse symptoms (i.e., worse sexual quality of life). Partners with high scores on the questionnaire should review this with a healthcare provider or seek additional support through individual or couples counseling, sex therapy, or a support group (see our list of support resources).
- Li R, Wittmann D, Nelson CJ, Salter CA, Mulhall JP, Byrne N, Sanchez Nolasco T, Ness M, Gupta N, Cassidy C, Crisotomo-Wynne T, Loeb S. Unmet Sexual Health Needs of Patients and Female Partners Following Diagnosis and Treatment for Prostate Cancer. J Sex Med. 2022 Dec;19(12):1797-1803. doi: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2022.08.195. Epub 2022 Oct 3.PMID: 36202730
- Gupta N, Zebib L, Wittmann D, Nelson CJ, Salter CA, Mulhall JP, Byrne N, Sanchez Nolasco T, Loeb S. Understanding the sexual health perceptions, concerns, and needs of female partners of prostate cancer survivors. J Sex Med. 2023 Apr 27;20(5):651-660. doi: 10.1093/jsxmed/qdad027.