Intimacy & sexuality

Intimacy is important

Sexual relationships and intimacy are an important and fulfilling part of life, and should continue after ostomy surgery.  There can be a period of adjustment after surgery.  The body takes time to heal and get strong after surgery. The mind takes time to adjust to a new body image.  Attitude is a key factor in re-establishing intimacy.

Surgery and treatment may have impacts on sexuality

Sexual function changes may occur after surgery or other treatments. For example, some men may have difficulty getting an erection.  Some women may experience restriction in their vagina. Talk to your doctor or ET/WOC nurse about these or other concerns.

You and your partner may experience different feelings. You may be anxious about the pouch and your partner may be anxious about hurting you. These concerns are best addressed openly.  Tell your partner that sex will not harm the stoma, and body contact will not loosen the pouching system.

Some practical suggestions are:

  • Empty your pouch before intimacy
  • Women may consider crotchless panties, ostomy wraps, or teddies to hide and secure the pouch.
  • Men may consider an ostomy wrap or taping the pouch in half to prevent it from dangling.

Single people often ask about the best time to tell a new partner about their ostomy.  It depends on the relationship.  Brief, casual dates may not need to know unless you want to tell them, but if the relationship grows and leads to intimacy, your partner should be told.

People hearing about an ostomy will take their cue from you. You are teaching them how to understand an ostomy. If you present the information as something shameful or awkward, they may assume this is a normal reaction and respond similarly. If you are comfortable talking about your ostomy, offer some practical and reassuring information, and answer any reasonable questions, many people will be accepting.

Practising talking about your ostomy

It may help to role-play telling someone new about your ostomy with a friend or family member. They can offer you feedback and help practice answering questions someone may have when hearing about an ostomy for the first time.

Some people consider telling a new partner about their ostomy a test. If a person finding out you have had life-saving surgery responds poorly, it may be a sign that they would not have been a reliable partner in other situations.