(Not) talking about sex: a systematic comparison of sexual impairment in women with systemic sclerosis and other chronic disease samples

Rheumatology (Oxford). 2009 Oct;48(10):1300-3. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/kep240. Epub 2009 Aug 19.


Objective: Sexual impairment in women with SSc has received little attention. The objective of this study was to compare levels of sexual impairment in women with SSc with samples of women with medical illnesses for which sexual impairment has been researched more extensively.

Methods: SSc patients completed the Sexual Relationships subscale of the Psychosocial Adjustment to Illness Scale-Self-Report (PAIS-SR). A systematic review was conducted to select comparison samples. Sexual Relationships subscale scores from SSc patients were compared with scores from comparison samples (breast or gynaecological cancer and HIV) using t-tests and Hedges's g to calculate effect sizes.

Results: Samples from 138 female SSc patients were analysed (28.3% diffuse; mean age 52.1 +/- 12.3 years; mean time since diagnosis 9.0 +/- 8.3 years). Women with dcSSc (6.1 +/- 4.2) reported significantly greater sexual impairment (P < 0.05) than those with lcSSc (4.4 +/- 4.2), three breast cancer samples (1.8 +/- 0.1, 3.4 +/- 3.9, 1.6 +/- 0.6) and two samples of HIV-positive female patients (4.4 +/- 3.8, 4.5 +/- 3.9). Scores in dcSSc were similar to one sample of HIV-positive women (5.8 +/- 4.1) and gynaecological cancer patients (7.3 +/- 4.3). Scores in lcSSc were significantly higher than two breast cancer samples, similar to one breast cancer sample and two HIV-positive samples, and significantly lower (P < 0.05) than in one HIV sample and gynaecological cancer.

Conclusion: Women with SSc, particularly those with dcSSc, have high levels of sexual impairment compared with women with other chronic diseases, where sexual function has received greater attention. Further research is needed on sexual function among women with SSc.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chronic Disease / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychometrics
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / complications*
  • Scleroderma, Systemic / psychology
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological / etiology*