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Psychol Health. 2013;28(6):603-19. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2012.737466. Epub 2012 Nov 9.

Embodying sexual subjectivity after cancer: a qualitative study of people with cancer and intimate partners.

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  • 1Centre for Health Research, University of Western Sydney, Penrith South DC, NSW, Australia.


Research has increasingly recognised the profound impact that cancer can have upon embodied subjectivity. However, there has been little acknowledgement of the centrality of sexuality to subjectivity, and marginalisation of the experiences of intimate partners of people with cancer. This Australian qualitative study explores the post-cancer experiences of embodied sexual subjectivity for 44 people with cancer (23 women and 21 men) and 35 partners of people with cancer (18 women and 17 men) across a range of cancer types and stages. Semi-structured interviews were analysed with theoretical thematic analysis, guided by a post-structuralist approach to sexual subjectivity as a dynamic process of becoming that can change over time, and by Williams' [(1996). The vicissitudes of embodiment across the chronic illness trajectory. Body and Society, 2, 23-47] framework on post-illness embodiment. Participants took up the following post-cancer subject positions: 'dys-embodied sexual subjectivity' - characterised by bodily betrayal, sexual loss, lack of acceptance, depression, and anxiety; 're-embodied sexual subjectivity'--characterised by greater sexual confidence, acceptance, the exploration of non-coital sexual practices and increased relational closeness; and 'oscillating sexual subjectivity'--involving a shift between states of sexual dys-embodiment and sexual re-embodiment. The findings point to the importance of focusing on the sexual health of people with cancer and partners across the cancer trajectory.

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