Understanding Sex and Stomas

September 27,2021 |
Couple hugging in their kitchen.

While ostomies are lifesaving procedures, they require a lot of changes to your daily routines. You’ll need to learn how to choose the right pouching system and change it regularly, how to notice signs of infection or complications with your stoma, and what foods irritate your digestive tract. These are things that are commonly discussed between doctors and patients, but one thing that’s not as widely spoken about is sex. However, having an ostomy does not limit you when it comes to dating, intimacy, and sex. To help, here is some information to increase your understanding about sex and stomas.

Intimacy with an Ostomy

Intimacy is a lot more than sex. Intimacy can come in the small acts of love throughout the day or in the bedroom. Every couple defines intimacy in different ways, and no matter what you define it as, intimacy is not restricted with an ostomy. Regardless of your sexual orientation, your stoma will not affect your ability to have sexual intercourse or be intimate with your partner.

Recognize Your Feelings

Many people who undergo ostomy surgeries feel as if they’re unlovable. This is understandable as ostomies result in a substantial amount of physical change, but it’s not true. True love is formed between people because of who they are, not what they look like. While it’s important to recognize your feelings about this, it’s just as important to focus on your attitude, character, and how you treat other people. When you accept yourself for who you are, despite any changes in how you look, others will too.

We understand that this is often easier said than done. To help you recognize and address your feelings, consider joining an ostomy support group. This allows you to express any fears or doubts and learn from others who have also gone through ostomy surgeries. Ostomy support groups can be a safe place and will help you find real answers to real questions, especially those concerning sex and stomas.

Keep Communication Open

While your stoma will change your physical appearance, it will not change who you are. Rather than feeling anxious about intimacy, discuss your sexual concerns with your partner. Being open and honest can help you feel more secure and prepared for sex after your surgery. This is mutually beneficial, as many people who are intimate with ostomates have at least some degree of anxiety about hurting your stoma or even dislodging your equipment. Having this conversation beforehand will help you prepare for intimacy and will give you the confidence to enjoy sex again.

If you have any concerns or notice that sexual function changes, talk to your doctor. There can be sexual complications with ostomies, but they usually get better with time and care.

Understand Your Stoma

Life with a stoma will be different, but it doesn’t have to restrict you. The best way to make sure that you’re getting the most out of your life, especially regarding intimacy, is to understand your stoma. Physical contact during sex does not hurt the stoma. While you might need to change positions to make sure that the ostomy pouch isn’t actively in the way, it should not harm your ostomy. If you do notice any changes to your stoma that cause alarm, or if you experience pain during sex, talk to your doctor. While minor changes to your stoma are normal during the first few months following your surgery, certain differences can indicate a sign of a problem. It’s always better to speak with your doctor to be sure.

Engaging in Sexual Intercourse

Sexual preferences vary between individuals and couples; therefore, the nature of your sex life will depend on your relationship. However, people with stomas can have sex in the exact same way as those without them. To make yourself more comfortable, start slow and explore your sexuality with your partner. There are also plenty of options to help you boost your self-confidence and get the most out of your intimacy.

Boosting Your Self-Confidence

One of the most difficult aspects of undergoing an ostomy surgery is regaining self-confidence. While nobody will know that you have an ostomy while you’re dressed, wearing a swimming suit or being intimate with your partner can make you feel exposed. Keeping communication open and honest with your partner can help you overcome some of these negative self-thoughts, but if you’re still uncomfortable, consider using undergarments that are made for ostomates.

There are plenty of great options for underwear and supportive garments that can help you feel empowered and sexy. You can opt for stoma covering underwear, ostomy bands, or even uniquely designed bags that can help keep your ostomy out of the way during intimate moments. With several options for both men and women, you’ll regain your self-confidence and take back control of your most intimate moments.

Complications with Sex and Ostomies

It is not uncommon for people without ostomies to experience sexual difficulties and obstacles at some point throughout their lives. This should be remembered for those who undergo ostomy surgeries. If you do experience sexual problems, your stoma may not necessarily be the cause. Your age and mental health can have serious impacts on sexual function, but there are things you can do. Two of the more common complications or concerns about sex and ostomies are impotence in men and pain or vaginal dryness in women.

Overcoming Temporary Impotence

It’s not uncommon for men to experience impotence following an ostomy surgery. If you’re having difficulty getting or maintaining an erection, talk to your doctor. While impotence is common immediately following an ostomy surgery, it’s rarely a permanent occurrence. During this time, it’s important to be patient and trust the process. Some men take up to two years to fully recover from temporary impotence, especially if they’re undergoing other treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation.

Pain or Vaginal Dryness

Depending on the location of the ostomy surgery in women, the uterus can shift and cause pain during intercourse. If you experience painful intercourse, talk to your doctor about your options. Another common problem amongst women who have an ostomy is vaginal dryness, which can increase discomfort during sex. Lubricants are a great option to help combat dryness or you can discuss changing your medications with your doctor.

Some people are worried that their partner will be able to smell their ostomy. While ostomy odor is an understandable concern, there are preventative measures you can take to reduce it from occurring. To avoid ostomy odor, use sprays, tablets, and change your pouch immediately before engaging in sexual intercourse.

Pregnancy and Ostomies

For some reason, there is a myth that people with ostomies can’t get pregnant and have children. This is far from the truth. Living with an ostomy does not restrict a woman’s ability to carry a child and give birth. However, everyone’s circumstances are different, so it is always important to talk to your doctor before you decide to get pregnant. Your doctor better understands your circumstances and can help you make a healthy decision regarding conception and birth plans.

Tips for Sex and Stomas

To maintain a healthy sex life with an ostomy, take things slow and be patient. Your body will need to recover after surgery, and you should avoid anything too rough. Ease back into sex with your partner, but don’t feel like you need to do anything differently. Sex can be experienced exactly the same with or without a stoma, but it might take some time to feel like yourself again in the bedroom. Don’t let your pouch get in the way and make sure that you’re only engaging in activities that you’re comfortable with. Never, under any circumstance, use your stoma for penetration. If you have any questions or concerns about your sex life after having an ostomy, contact your doctor for more information. There are plenty of options to help you navigate intimacy, sex, and stomas.

If you have any questions or are looking to join a local support group based on your zip code, head over to UOAA today. For more information, Byram Healthcare provides ongoing updates to the ostomy community, has options for ostomy education and support, and supplies products that can be discreetly delivered to your door. We carry a wide range of ostomy supplies including pouching systems, skin barriers, and helpful products to improve the quality of life for ostomates around the country. To get started, check out our ostomy product selection guide today.