Objective To assess patients’ perceptions of the effects of RA on their sexual relationships.
Method A self report questionnaire was distributed to patients attending rheumatology clinics in Leeds. It was returned by pre-paid post to maintain anonymity.
Results Fifty-nine (80%) questionnaires were returned: 2 by men, 2 were not completed. Womens ages ranged from 36–75 yrs (mean/median 58), men 38–76 yrs (mean 57: median 60). Median duration of RA for women was 18 yrs (mean 19: range 3–40); men 16 yrs (mean 17; range 5–35). Thirty-three women and 8 men were married (duration 1–47 yrs). Five women were single, 6 (1 man) widowed and 3 (1 man) divorced. Sixteen thought RA had strained their sexual relationship and 30 did not. Eighteen thought their RA had altered their relationship but 23 did not. Twenty-three thought RA limited sexual intercourse. Problems cited included pain (11/23); positioning (6/23) and fatigue (5/23). Sexual ability was of little importance to 20 patients but important/very important to 28. Twenty discussed sexual problems with their partners, 19 did not. Sexual relationships were broached by the nurse practitioner in 19 cases but the remaining patients had not been offered discussion. Twenty said they would consider talking to a health professional if problems arose but 21 would not.
Conclusion Many patients with RA experience problems with their sexual relationships but few are given the opportunity to discuss the subject. The topic needs to be addressed and further work is necessary to assess the patients’ requirements and the way in which sexual problems can be addressed within the context of patient management.
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