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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.

Sex

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.

Logistics

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

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.

Resources

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

About Elaine

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

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ostomyibdlife/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ostomyibdlife/

Web: www.ElaineOrourke.com

 

Getting to a place where you feel confident in yourself and your new routine might take some time. There are many factors to consider following your ostomy surgery, but there are also many resources available to you while you are adjusting to normal life. Having a thriving social life is not out of the question, and with some time and patience with your body, you will be living your best life.

Beginning Stages

In the beginning, it will be important to keep some sort of a journal or diary as you experiment with new foods and beverages. Figuring out how different foods and beverages affect your body will influence your social life with regards to dining out. It might be helpful to eat smaller meals more often throughout your day as you record what foods tend to cause more gas or which foods are harder for your body to break down. Remember to drink lots of water and chew your food well.

As you move from blander and softer foods to a more regular and high-fiber foods, you will notice more regularity in your bowel movements. Understanding your body’s schedule will be key in planning outings, dates, and events. As you begin to venture out of the house more, remember to bring extra supplies with you and locate the restrooms should you need one with short notice.

Getting Out There

As your confidence builds, and your ostomy becomes routine and normal to you, saying ‘yes’ to more things will become easier and easier. If you were an active person before your surgery, you will be able to resume your active lifestyle. Whether going to the gym, running along the beach, hiking through a forest, or playing a pick-up game of basketball, exercise is key to keeping you mentally, emotionally and physically fit. While you will need to be cautious in the beginning so you can fully heal, there are few limitations on what your body can do with ostomy. If you are having a hard time figuring out what clothing or specific products will help to keep things in place during your activities, Coloplast has put together solutions for a variety of different sports and activities.

Making friends aware of your new ostomy can be intimidating at first. Preparing an informative, concise story to tell people may help ease your mind. Connecting with your friends and family can help you to stay positive and hopeful and will make the transition back to regular life much more manageable. Share as little or as much as you feel comfortable about your ostomy, but keep in mind that talking about it can be beneficial to both parties.

If you are in a romantic relationship, it is likely that your partner is already aware of your surgery and new ostomy. Good communication and honesty about your feelings and your partner’s feelings will be vital to the future of your relationship. It may take time for you to feel ready to be sexually active following your surgery, but exploring this as a couple and in the timing that works best for you will go a long way in helping your relationship succeed.

Meet Others Like You

You are not alone in this new change to your body. There are many people living with an ostomy already out there who are interested in connecting and sharing their stories. It can be helpful to talk to someone who is in a similar situation and who will understand the ups and downs of this new routine. Getting connected to a group or network that shares your story can be radically healing and help with your confidence and self-esteem, not to mention broaden your social network. If you aren’t ready to venture out to a group just yet, you may want to begin by watching and hearing stories from others living with an ostomy to see how they were able to travel, date, go back to work, stay active, and enjoy a healthy sex life.

Whatever stage you are at in your recovery and healing process; if you are adapting to a new routine with your pouching system or working your way to sexual confidence with a partner, know that it is possible. While it may feel daunting to say yes to a date or go out to dinner with a group of friends, with just a little extra planning and the support of others, you can have a thriving social life with an ostomy.

 

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.

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.

More Resources

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.