A new study of cervical cancer survivors has challenged commonly held perception of hormones' role in sexual activity, after finding that the 'fighters' reported satisfying sex lives following surgical intervention.
Conducted at the University of Southern California-Yale University, the study details the sexual experiences of women who presumably had no hormonally-motivated sexual behaviour or interest.
Surgical intervention for cervical cancer often involves removing the ovaries, which reduces or eliminates circulating testosterone. The hormone is a factor in both male and female sexual behaviour.
"Our findings, which demonstrate the existence of widespread interest and satisfaction with sex in the absence of a crucial hormone underscore the importance of non-hormonal components of sexual interest and satisfaction," said lead author Howard Greenwald, a USC professor with the School of Policy, Planning, and Development.
He added: "That may mean the key to sexual satisfaction is less about biology and more about psychology."
He claimed that during the first months and years following treatment for cervical cancer, women often struggle with what they perceive to be assault on their sexual organs and identity.
In their study, the researchers found that after six years most women's sexual desire and enjoyment rebounds. In this particular study, the researchers interviewed women six to 28 years from their initial diagnosis.
After interviewing 179 women, the researchers found that more than 80 percent of the cervical cancer survivors reported being sexually active. Whereas, 81.4 percent said they 'sometimes,' 'almost always' or 'always' desired sexual activity and 90.9 percent indicated they enjoyed sexual activity at least some of the time.
One-third of the women answered in affirmative when asked if cervical cancer had a negative effect on their relationships. On the other hand, two-thirds disagreed with that statement.
"This observation is important because the public places so much emphasis on 'hormones' in sex and the pharmaceutical industry is poised to release a whole new generation of hormone-based drugs for female sexuality," said Greenwald.
"A person's outlook, relationships and other factors may be just as important, or even more important."
After cancer is diagnosed, doctors perform hysterectomies - surgical removal of the uterus - or oophorectomies - removal of one or both ovaries - to treat invasive cervical cancer.
The researchers found a difference in sexual interest between these two groups and found that women with hysterectomies were less likely to report a lack of interest in sex compared to the other women.
Conversely, women who had oophorectomies were less likely to report they enjoyed sex compared to the other women. Oophorectomies typically affect circulating sexual hormones and results in reduced vaginal lubrication.
"The women who've lost their ovaries, and thus the naturally circulating testosterone, are less likely to enjoy sex. However, women who've had this ovary-removing procedure are statistically no less likely to be sexually active or more likely to lack sexual desire than women who still have their ovaries," said Greenwald.
"These results underscore how important it is to include people who are long-term survivors and to assess their quality of life in terms of their sexuality, their relationships with others, and their ability to be productive members of our society."
The study, "Sexuality and Sexual Function in Long-Term Survivors of Cervical Cancer," appears in the recent issue of Journal of Women's Health.