Constructions of sexuality for midlife women living with chronic illness

J Adv Nurs. 2001 Jul;35(2):180-7. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2648.2001.01835.x.


Aim: In this paper, we reveal constructions of sexuality that were articulated by women who participated in an inquiry which aimed to understand the experiences of midlife women who live with chronic illness. The aim of this paper is to illuminate sexuality as an important health issue for women living with chronic illness and to offer ways that nurses may acknowledge and facilitate sexuality issues for women.

Background: The first author, as part of her doctoral study, corresponded with 81 women living with chronic illness. The participatory inquiry was framed by feminist principles and enabled women to anonymously share their experiences and collaborate in the direction of the research. During the analysis phase of the research, it became evident that illness had altered the way in which women conceptualized sexuality.

Design: The three authors performed secondary analysis of the original data set in order to re-examine the impact that chronic illness had on the sexuality of midlife women who live with chronic illness. Whilst we acknowledge that sexuality has multiple meanings, in this paper we describe the way in which women themselves have constructed and articulated their sexuality.

Findings: We found that sexuality incorporated women's desires, appearance, sexual feelings and expression and imposed on aspects of their lives that they had not needed to acknowledge before illness intruded. Three concerns are discussed; the changing body, meeting the needs of others and communicating sexuality.

Conclusions: This paper reveals that issues of sexuality are an important health concern for women who live with long-term illness and should be acknowledged in sensitive and responsive health practices. The paper concludes that it is important for nurses to provide women opportunity for open and genuine communications about sexuality. In this way, a foundation of acceptance for the whole person is established which provides women permission to ask questions and seek assistance with sexuality issues.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Image
  • Chronic Disease / nursing
  • Chronic Disease / psychology*
  • Communication
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Sexual Partners / psychology
  • Sexuality*