Couples Counseling Can Restore Intimacy after Cancer A new study finds that couples counseling can improve sexual satisfaction and function for prostate cancer survivors and their partners.

Researchers discovered both Internet-based sexual counseling and traditional sex therapy were equally effective in improving sexual outcomes.

Men experienced a marked improvement in their sexual function for up to one year, and women who started out with a sexual problem improved significantly with counseling.

“We know that one of the crucial factors in a man’s having a good sexual outcome after treatment is a partner who also wants their sex life to get better,” said Leslie Schover, Ph.D, lead investigator on the study and author of the paper.

“Women’s issues such as ill health, post-menopausal vaginal dryness and lack of desire for sex can be a major barrier in achieving satisfactory sexual outcomes.”

Researchers randomized 115 prostate cancer survivors who were experiencing erectile dysfunction and their partners into three groups.

One group received face-to-face counseling, another group received an Internet-based sexual counseling program and the final group was placed on a waiting list.

Couples were assessed before and after the three-month wait list period, again after counseling, and also at six and 12-month followups. In addition to web-based education and exercises, participants in the Internet-based group received feedback from their counselor through email.

Many prostate cancer survivors are as concerned about loss of desire and lack of satisfying orgasms as they are about erectile dysfunction. Men in this study improved on most dimensions of sexual function.

From baseline to one year, men improved significantly in erectile function, but also in orgasmic function, intercourse satisfaction and overall sexual satisfaction. Sexual desire remained stable.

An interesting component of the study was the ability to receive online counseling. This virtual connection was helpful for patients and/or partners who were anxious about working on sexual issues directly with a therapist.

The Internet-based program offered online tools and surveys, as well as interaction with the therapist by email.

“Not only do men often use the Internet to search for information on sex, but prostate cancer patients consider the web a valuable resource for information on the impact of treatment on sex,” said Schover.

Another advantage of web-based counseling for couples is the potentially lower cost. While many insurance companies cover medical treatment of erection problems after prostate cancer, the cost of sex therapy is often not reimbursed.

The cost-saving feature is often relevant as cancer-survivors may be burdened with co-payments for their cancer treatment and many couples cannot afford additional costs associated with mental health care.

“Very few insurance policies sufficiently cover sexual counseling in particular, and mental health counseling in general,” said Schover. “Another barrier is that there are few mental health care professionals trained to deal with both cancer coping and sexual problems.”

Researchers plan to continue work on a general multimedia interactive counseling program to help men with any type of cancer and their partners improve their sex lives. Schover hopes this program will help men and couples with limited insurance or lack of access to a big city or cancer center.

Source: University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center