A randomized pilot trial of a telephone-based couples intervention for physical intimacy and sexual concerns in colorectal cancer

Jennifer Barsky Reese, Laura S. Porter, Katelyn R. Regan, Francis J. Keefe, Nilofer S. Azad, Luis A. Diaz, Joseph M. Herman, Jennifer A. Haythornthwaite

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Background: We previously developed and piloted a telephone-based intimacy enhancement (IE) intervention addressing sexual concerns of colorectal cancer patients and their partners in an uncontrolled study. The current study tested the feasibility, acceptability, and preliminary efficacy of the IE intervention in a randomized, controlled trial. Methods: Twenty-three couples were randomized to either the four-session IE condition or to a wait list control condition and completed sexual and relationship outcomes measures. The IE intervention teaches skills for coping with sexual concerns and improving intimacy. Feasibility and acceptability were assessed through enrollment and post-treatment program evaluations, respectively. Effect sizes were calculated by comparing differences in average pre/post change scores across completers in the two groups (n = 18 couples). Results: Recruitment and attrition data supported feasibility. Program evaluations for process (e.g., ease of participation) and content (e.g., relevance) demonstrated acceptability. Engaging in intimacy-building activities and communication were the skills rated as most commonly practiced and most helpful. For patients, positive effects of the IE intervention were found for female and male sexual function, medical impact on sexual function, and self-efficacy for enjoying intimacy (≥.58); no effects were found on sexual distress or intimacy and small negative effects for sexual communication, and two self-efficacy items. For partners, positive IE effects were found for all outcomes; the largest were for sexual distress (.69), male sexual function (1.76), communication (.97), and two self-efficacy items (≥.87). Conclusions: The telephone-based IE intervention shows promise for couples facing colorectal cancer. Larger multi-site intervention studies are necessary to replicate findings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1005-1013
Number of pages9
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2014


  • colorectal cancer
  • couple therapy
  • feasibility studies
  • sexual dysfunctions
  • sexuality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Oncology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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