Purpose: When confronted with cancer, a prominent challenge for patients and their partners is their changed sexual relationship. There is a need for an empirically based theoretical model of the sexual adaptation process during cancer.
Method: We conducted a literature synthesis of a purposeful sample of sixteen qualitative papers, using the meta-ethnography approach to select, analyse and synthetize the papers.
Results: We found that the subsequent papers used three different theoretical approaches to describe how couples dealt with their changed sexuality due to cancer: (1) as a process of grief and mourning, depicting sexual changes as a loss, (2) as a process of cognitive restructuring, with a strong focus on the social and cultural forces that shape the values and experiences of sexuality and (3) as a process of sexual rehabilitation, depicting
sexual changes as a bodily dysfunction that needs to be ‘cured’ by (medical) treatment. All three processes have their own opportunities and challenges for practice.
Conclusion: A better knowledge of these three processes might help health care providers in the oncological setting to better understand and guide couples in dealing with their changed sexuality.