Childhood Cancer Survivors Report on Psychosexual Milestones as Young Adults
When individuals have cancer early in life (i.e., before the age of 18), it can affect their development throughout life. In particular, childhood cancer may impact one’s psychosexual development as a young adult. This could be the result of physical changes to the body caused by the cancer or its treatments, concerns about body image, insecurities, and/or missed opportunities to spend time with peers.
Though this topic has been scarcely investigated, a team of researchers recently surveyed 492 German survivors of childhood cancer on their psychosexual milestones, sexual satisfaction, and sexual functioning. They also documented the participants’ perception of the timing of these milestones, meaning whether they wished they had happened earlier, later, or felt they had occurred at the right time.
At the time of this study, the participants were between the ages of 21-26 years. They were 6-26 years past the date of their cancer diagnosis. In addition to providing sociodemographic data, the participants were asked to document whether or not they had reached five psychosexual milestones: first boyfriend/girlfriend, first kiss, first experience with physical intimacy (without intercourse), first time having intercourse (sexual debut), and first time in love.
If they had reached a psychosexual milestone, the respondents were asked to provide the age at which they had reached the specified milestone and whether they felt it was too early, too late, or at the right time. Lastly, the participants’ sexual satisfaction was measured by the 5-item Global Measure of Sexual Satisfaction (GMSEX), and their sexual functioning was measured by the 4-item Medical Outcome Study (MOS) Sexual Functioning Scale.
The collected data was then compared to the normative data of 1,533 individuals. This comparison revealed that, in general, childhood cancer survivors reached psychosexual milestones around the same time as the people in the normative sample did, with the exception of their sexual debut.
While 82.5% of the childhood cancer survivors had had sexual intercourse at the time of the study, 88% of the individuals in the normative sample had had sexual intercourse. Additionally, survivors were generally older at their sexual debut (17.4 years vs 16.2 years). Nevertheless, most of the study participants (58.3%) indicated that they felt the timing of their sexual debut was right.
Additionally, most of the study participants reported favorable sexual satisfaction and sexual functioning, though these findings should be viewed in light of the fact that brief 4-5-item measures were used to assess them. More comprehensive questionnaires could lead to more detailed results. Still, this information suggests that childhood cancer survivors are not significantly delayed in their psychosexual development, and most are happy with the timing of their important milestones in this area of life.
- Lehmann, V., Gerhardt, C.A., Baust, K., Kaatsch, P., Hagedoorn, M., & Tuinman, M.A. (2022). Psychosexual Development and Sexual Functioning in Young Adult Survivors of Childhood Cancer. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 19(11), 1644-1654. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsxm.2022.07.014