By Elaine O’Rourke, Ostomy & IBD Health Mentor
When you are able to talk honestly about sex and intimacy, it will help build a healthier relationship. A chronic illness or an ostomy can bring up different issues around relationships, whether you are single or in a partnership.
You may wonder when to tell a potential partner about your medical history or how to rediscover passion within your current relationship. You may need to get creative with how you are having sex and pleasuring each other.
How to communicate effectively
This is the key to everything in life! So needless to say it is the key when you are in a relationship. Yet, it can be so difficult to communicate effectively.
Personally, I try to express, with compassion, what I am experiencing and being open to hearing their perspective. This will help open the dialogue about sex and intimacy.
It is so important to get comfortable talking about your ostomy, IBD or any chronic illness with your partner. If you’re not feeling sexy, desirable or if it’s painful to have sex then your partner needs to know. Likewise, your partner may be having difficulty accepting your new body and feel guilty about that.
Seek help if you need it. As an Ostomy/IBD Health Mentor I help people with many of the emotional issues that arise.
Check out this video clip from my talk on “Intimacy” at the Girls with Guts retreat last year.
Your partners perspective
It can also be really difficult for your partner to witness you go through so much pain. It’s important to nurture your partner too. Ask them if they have questions about your ostomy or how things work. They might be feeling nervous and afraid. By opening the conversation you are helping them to voice how they are feeling and how they are dealing.
The act of sex includes sexual intercourse. But this may not be possible for everybody. Or you might discover that it feels very different depending on what surgery you have. It might be painful or you may not be able to have an erection or ejaculate. (See videos on Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy and Men’s Health with IBD or Ostomy).
If you are in your head and worried about what your partner thinks, or if you are embarrassed or self-conscious about how you look, then it will be really hard to let go and enjoy sex. Feelings of being inhibited need to be addressed. This is an area included in my ostomy and IBD programs.
Rekindling your relationship
Practicing patience and knowing you have to give your body time to heal. Your partner needs to know how you are feeling. If you are dating someone you need to explain to them what’s going on. It’ll either make or break a relationship.
If sexual intercourse isn’t possible then get creative with other ways of pleasuring each other through oral sex, touching, kissing, cuddling, sex toys.
Before sex I always empty the pouch. I’m not taking any chances! You will feel much better about things and your partner will be grateful too.
If a position doesn’t work for you then you have to let your partner know. Know your boundaries.
Take your time to get to know each other again, to become familiar with how your bodies work together now. Be patient with each other. And make it fun. Remember the more comfortable you are about your body, the more comfortable your partner will be.
If you are having a flare up, or going through cancer treatments then chances are you are not feeling sexy at all and a cuddle is all you can handle.
Intimacy requires really opening up more and letting someone see you for who you are. Being able to share you fears and worries, being vulnerable, honest and authentic.
Intimacy is different to the act of sex but when combined then it makes a really healthy relationship.
Intimacy creates sensitivity. When you are intimate you become sensitive to yourself and to others.
When to tell someone about your ostomy or illness
Each relationship is going to be different. It may also depend on how long you’ve had your ostomy or illness.
Personally I wouldn’t intend to tell someone on a first date that I have an ostomy but if the timing is right then I might.
Most importantly, is to honor how you are feeling. It’s all about what you are comfortable with. You want someone to form an opinion on your personality and not based around your ostomy or diagnosis.
Sometimes, just having an ostomy has been a great way to NOT have a one-night stand!
If you are having a one-night stand then tell the person beforehand. But try not to go into a feeling of rejection if they don’t want to proceed. They are probably doing you a favor in that case! (See video below on Overcoming rejection with Chronic Illness or Ostomy).
I’ve found that when I explain the events leading to my ostomy how ill I was and then there is more empathy and understanding of why I’ve an ostomy and all that I’ve endured.
Blog and video on Sexual Issues with an Ostomy has great information along with the https://elaineorourke.com/sexual-issues-with-an-ostomy-or-ibd/
UOAA has a sexuality guide which explains the types of surgeries, and how they affect sexual function and the emotional component as well.
Make sure to grab your FREE GUIDE: ‘3 simple ways to eliminate fears about your ostomy” by visiting Elaine’s website www.ElaineOrourke.com
Elaine O’Rourke is an Ostomy/IBD Health Mentor and the creator of the program “Surviving To Thriving: Overcoming Ostomy Challenges So You Can Live a FulFilling Life”. She is a certified Yoga Therapist & Teacher since 2003, Sound Healer, EFT & Reiki Practitioner, Recording Artist and International Retreat Leader. Her lighthearted and fun personality shines through her teachings/programs as she loves to inspire others. She is a contributing writer to the national Phoenix Magazine and UOAA, presenter at the UOAA National Conference and speaker at Girls with Guts retreat.
YouTube: Elaine O’Rourke Yoga, Ostomy, IBD
Are you feeling nervous at the thought of date night after ostomy surgery? You’re not alone. With a little planning ahead, you can be sure to have a great night out.
My first question would be, what are your plans for the evening? Plans might be different for a first date versus dining with a long-term partner or spouse. You might be considering an outdoor outing following dinner, such as a walk. Or you may need to keep in mind if there is a potential for intimacy at the end of the night.
Keep in mind where you will be throughout the evening. Will you be in a place where you won’t have access to a bathroom, or do have access, but have concerns about odor? There are certain foods or drinks that will cause an increase in output, gas and a potential embarrassing smell. Check out tips and tricks for diet here, but keep in mind that everyone will react differently; so you will need to try things out. I don’t entirely follow all the “food rules”, but I do limit carbonated drinks and monitor how much I eat. I’m lucky, my stomach can handle most foods. I do not get blockages and am not too concerned about potential odors.
If you fear odor that may accompany emptying your pouch, I recommend carrying a small bottle of odor eliminating toilet spray. You spray it in your toilet before you empty, and it helps hide the odor. Now that doesn’t solve the problem entirely, but in combination with a lubricating deodorant you can empty with more confidence.
If you do end up having a little more output than expected without access to a bathroom, I find using one of the Ostomysecrets® wraps to both hide the potential bulge from your shirt or leverage extra support in case you fear an accident. The wrap can also prevent self-consciousness if your shirt “accidentally” comes off during the date or evening.
If you are hoping to avoid the bathroom altogether, keep in mind, how much you eat will also drive output. If you eat a lot, then you could potentially be in and out of the bathroom all night.
Bottom line: plan ahead thinking about where you’re going, what your plans are and you’ll be able to face the evening with even more confidence!
Editor’s note: This article is from one of our digital sponsors, ConvaTec. Sponsor support along with donations from readers like you help to maintain our website and the free trusted resources of UOAA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Don’t Let Your Ostomy Stop You From Dating!
Easing back into the dating scene may feel scary and impossible, it’s normal to want to take your time and get comfortable with your daily routine before tackling dating. It is possible, however, and going on dates might actually help to increase your comfort and confidence.
Finding the Perfect Date Location
When you are ready, choose a location that is familiar to you. If it’s not too far from home and you already know where the restrooms are, you will feel more in control of the situation and it will ease your mind. You can choose to keep the first couple of dates casual and relatively short to ensure your comfort.
You might even want to get together with a close friend who knows about your ostomy and go out shopping for a new outfit, something that will make you feel positive and bold. If the location of the date is unknown to you, use this time to also stop by and get a feel for the environment. It’s fine to want all the information ahead of time so all you need to worry about during your date is seeing if there’s a romantic spark.
Are Things Beginning to Heat Up?
Of course if things are beginning to heat up with someone, you will probably want to think about sharing about your ostomy. Remember that it’s completely up to you when and how to do this. It may be helpful to write down what you want to communicate beforehand to help with your confidence and directness. Feel free to keep it short and then offer to field some questions that your new partner might have. Remember, if a romantic interest can’t accept you as you are, they are not the one for you.
If the idea of ostomy sex makes you nervous, it may be helpful to talk to someone who has been down that road before. Speak with someone who has experience living with an ostomy to find out how they navigated similar situations. Your nurse may have information of local networks or support groups. You can start your search to meet others in your situation on our website.
Find our additional information on intimacy and your stoma.
Editor’s note: This article is from one of our digital sponsors, Coloplast. Sponsor support along with donations from readers like you help to maintain our website and the free trusted resources of UOAA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
By Ellyn Mantell morethanmyostomy.com
As an advocate and UOAA Affiliated Support Group Leader, I make it very clear that there is no question or concern that is off-topic for me, and I truly believe that since this is our “new normal” it is very important to be open about all aspects of our lives. The question that seems to most concern new ostomates is about their sexual interactions, and how their partner or future partners will react to their unique anatomy. Since I feel that our anatomy is so beautifully functional (as it may not have been for a long time) I encourage ostomates to look at their ostomy in the most positive of lights. Additionally, it is always my belief that intimacy begins and dwells in the mind, rather than the body.
UOAA President Susan Burns had ileostomy surgery at 36 and knows how important being open about intimacy concerns is. “This is a topic that needs to be discussed but is not addressed enough by health care professionals so it is important to read our guide, find peer-support, or a support group member that is comfortable discussing it,” Susan says.
I believe that intimacy is a beautiful gift one gives to another, and sex is only one meaningful part of the intimate moments people share. I also believe that being intimate with another is a means of communication, a sharing, of thoughts and feelings. This positive reflection of our emotions and adoration for our partner is what bolsters a relationship.
For over two decades, my body was in turmoil, and although I wasn’t faced with a pouch on my abdomen, feeling “sexy” was a transient and very much undependable feeling. Bowel obstructions, bloating, worry all interfered with a positive outlook for intimacy. Couple that with a busy life struggling to be productive in between the medical episodes, and my intestine certainly held me hostage.
My 23rd abdominal surgery, my ileostomy, helped me to begin to have a more predictable life. I am comforted in the knowledge that I function differently, but it is dependable. No longer expecting to be hospitalized on a regular basis, I am free to be productive in so many ways…support groups, motivational speaking, my writing, seeing my family and friends.
The key, however, to the conversations I have with ostomates regarding their own intimacy is to be totally candid with them. Here is what I say…if you are blessed to love and adore your partner, who loves and adores you, then you will travel the road to a joyful connection, enjoying the closeness that you share because you are able to do so. You have the ability to dance together and move together as never before, all the while knowing that your bond is even stronger than you ever thought possible. You are amongst those of us who know that intimacy, that beautiful gift we give each other begins in the mind, and the body just follows along.
Editor’s note. For a complete intimacy and sexuality guide that addresses both physical and emotional issues click here. UOAA’s National Conference in August will also have an expert session on sexuality and frank conversations on the topic for ostomates and a separate meeting space for partners.
The Black and White of it? Support is Everything.
By Tricia Hottenstein stomamama.com
I recently shared an article about a little boy who was bullied so badly that after twenty-six surgeries, he decided to take his own life. It hit me so hard. I read it with tears rolling down my face, my heart hurting for his loved ones and my soul hurting for the things he must have felt. I read it after spending a long weekend in the hospital and after undergoing three of four surgeries in just two months. I read it knowing the hurt of bullying and the feeling of people looking at me with any variant of disgust when seeing or talking about my ostomy bag. I read it after writing and sharing what was basically a diary entry of overwhelming emotions. It is by no means comparable, but it made me think a lot about the strong support system around me. I know that my mindset is shaped so greatly by those handpicked few who always have my back and in the midst of this article, fresh in my own rehashed wounds, my gratitude for life and the way it all works out has increased. I can’t be certain I’d have made it through the last few months had they happened to me a year ago when I was already down and struggling. Support is everything.
I’ve had an ex who was (and still is) really supportive and caring, and one who made me cry and feel worthless in a hospital room. I’ve also had an ex who couldn’t hide his lack of understanding or his overly dramatic gags when he saw me changing my bag. The embarrassment and disrespect was the exact reason why I decided to mention my stoma the very first time I met my boyfriend. I had since decided that anyone who was less than understanding would be an immediate no. I was afraid of dating with an ostomy, but I was no longer willing to feel like a burden or anything less than sexy. I would be okay being single and building myself back up on my own.
And then practically out of nowhere, I was on a date. I was nervous in spite of it going so well, or maybe because it was. I spent many moments of conversation wondering if they were the right moments to bring up the surgery. I speak so freely of my bag to everyone. I answer questions from coworkers, friends, family, and strangers without thinking twice. This is my bag; it saved my life! It is worth talking about. But how do I casually bring this up without awkwardly ending a date? What if his response wasn’t what I wanted it to be? Although, that’s the point, right? I’m old enough, I’ve been through enough. No more on the fence with anything. It is black and white and I’m not moving forward with any more gray.
“Tell me something about yourself that would surprise me.” To be honest, I don’t even remember if he eventually answered the question. All I know is he stared at me. This moment of oh shit in my mind as he was staring at me, half laughing, shocked to be put on the spot. So I just went for it. “I don’t have a colon!” More stares, more shock. I explained the scenario in a nutshell. The disease, the surgery, and the bag I’ve had for several years.
“Well… I guess…that’s kind of shitty, huh?” The words hung in the air before we both laughed. And in all honesty, my reaction to that response could have been a variable one depending on many factors. But really, how better to respond? Because I don’t want someone who will constantly feel sorry for me, or who will treat me any differently. Rather, I want someone who will make me laugh, who will be understanding and upbeat, and who will continue on with the conversation afterward as if it is no big deal. Sure, there were questions to be asked, but not a single one of them seemed to really matter. And there it was, in black and white and bar lights: this glimmer of hope.
As it would turn out, it couldn’t have come at a better time. A few short months later, I was back in hospital gowns and waiting rooms. And not once did he flinch. Not when I delivered awful news, not while he sat next to me in pre-op, not when my bag leaked in the middle of the night or I got frustrated and had tears running down my face. The reality is, most of the time I didn’t even have time to process things before he was reassuring me I’d be okay and distracting me with nonstop laughter.
When I’m in the trenches, when I’m alone, when I think too much, it is easy to go to a place of overwhelming emotions. I have spent more than half of my life with this disease, and surgery went so well that I thought the rest of my life would be smooth sailing. I was finally meeting people who had never known me as sick. It sounds so irrelevant, but it is a huge deal. I remember several years ago when a family member introduced me as “the sick one.” It was intended to be harmless. Intended simply as a way for their friend to put a face to the person they had obviously spoken of. The person undergoing IV therapy, taking twenty-some pills a day, piling up medical debt, and seeing the best physicians while still unable to leave the house most days. It cut through me and it scarred deep. But post-op, there was this moment in life where that was no longer me. Now I was strong. I was an adventurer. I was healthy.
The frustration when that all came crashing down was audible. Suddenly I was right back down to the some of the lowest points in my life. I was again “the sick one.” Somehow even when things had been slowly going downhill, I was blinded enough by the highs to be shocked when I was back to square one. I was angry. I felt sorry for myself and felt alone despite the people around me. I started to prepare myself again for the life full of battles, ready to sink back to that person who laid in the fetal position on the sofa, unable to eat or move or laugh from deep within my belly. I just kept thinking, over and over, that this is my life. I had a whole other vision for it after my ostomy surgery, but this person, right here, in a hospital room getting bad news? This is my life.
Until the person next to me, the person who responded to the news of my ostomy when we first met with a poop joke, responded with another poop joke. The kind that made me laugh so hard that all the ugly tears shook off my face. And as he wiped the remnants of them away, he reassured me. With a few simple words, he reminded me of my actual life. Reality. Yes, I am the sick one. But I’m also the healthy one. In black and white, that is my life. Some days I will be an adventurer. I’ll feel healthy, I’ll laugh, and I’ll enjoy the smooth sailing. And some days I will be sick. I’ll be a warrior. I’ll look for hope and rely on others. And their support will be everything.
United Ostomy Associations of America
P.O. Box 525
Kennebunk, ME 04043-0525
Call us toll-free at: 1-800-826-0826.
Our Information Line hours are Monday-Friday, 9am to 3pm (Wednesday until 2pm) EST. If you have an emergency, please dial 911 or contact your local medical professional.
Please understand that UOAA is a private, nonprofit, advocacy and informational organization. We are not a medical facility and we do not have medical or legal professionals on staff. Therefore, UOAA does not provide Medical, Mental Health, Insurance or Legal Advice.
UOAA is the leading organization proactively advocating on behalf of the ostomy community. Recognizing that we are always stronger together, we encourage everyone to get involved by joining our Advocacy Network. We’ve also created several Advocacy Tools and Resources to help you successfully advocate on behalf of the ostomy community to ensure every ostomate receives quality care.
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