Addressing the Intimacy Needs of Partners of Patients with Terminal Cancer

Addressing the Intimacy Needs of Partners of Patients with Terminal Cancer

Palliative care is aimed at improving an individual’s quality of life and minimizing their suffering when they are sick with a terminal illness. While it is generally effective at achieving these goals, palliative care does not generally address the sexuality or intimate needs of patients and their partners.

Therefore, a recent study was designed to address the overlooked sexual needs of patients with life-limiting cancers in palliative care. It explored both the physical and psychological elements of intimacy, emphasizing the importance of sexuality support in the palliative phase.

This study focused on individuals aged ≥50 who had lost a partner within the last 5 years to terminal cancer. Surveys from these people shed light on the sexuality support that they desired from healthcare professionals during their partner’s last hospitalization. In total, 290 individuals participated in this study.

To avoid confusion, the authors of this study defined three types of intimacy: sexual intimacy, emotional intimacy, and physical intimacy. Sexual intimacy was defined as closeness between partners during sexual activity; emotional intimacy was defined as emotional connection between partners; and physical intimacy was defined as nonsexual physical contact between partners such as kissing, hugging, and holding hands. The researchers used the phrase “time to nurture love with one’s partner” in the survey to encompass all three of these types of intimacy.

Participants were enrolled through a commercial survey company to complete the questionnaire between September 1-30, 2020. The survey assessed support received during the partners’ last hospitalization, including unmet needs, opinions on time for intimacy, and satisfaction with sexual aspects using the Supportive Care Needs Survey–Short Form. A new scale measured desired support from ward nurses and bereaved partners’ opinions on intimacy during hospitalization.

After collecting valid responses from the 290 participants, the authors compiled the data and looked for trends in the information. The respondents, mainly aged 50-69, desired more information and discussion about time to nurture love with their partners during their partners’ last hospitalization.

They also expressed the need for support in areas such as creating opportunities for intimacy and providing guidance on ways to maintain intimacy during these times. Notably, younger age and more frequent pre-illness intimacy correlated with higher unmet needs.

These results highlight the significance of addressing the sexual and emotional needs of bereaved partners during the palliative care phase, which can be enhanced with support from healthcare providers.

Intimacy is a vital part of the human experience, so it is important for terminally ill patients and their partners to be able to nurture their connection even during palliative care. Asking health care providers for the space and opportunities to have this special time together may be an effective way to ensure it continues.


  • Kusakabe, A., Mawatari, H., Hirano, K., Ohta, M., Inamori, M., & Morita, T. (2023). Identifying the unmet physical and psychological intimacy and sexual needs of partners of patients with terminal cancer. The Journal of Sexual Medicine20(11), 1312-1318.

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