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Common Issues: Intimacy After Ostomy Surgery

Common Ostomy Issues Blog Series Intimacy After Ostomy Surgery

Having a new ostomy is a major life change. So it’s completely natural to have questions and concerns about life after ostomy surgery, including your diet, social life, and physical activity. In addition, many new ostomates may wonder how living with an ostomy will impact their dating and sex life. The good news is that yes, intimacy with an ostomy is still possible.

Here’s our helpful guide for physical intimacy after ostomy surgery.

Does Having an Ostomy Impact Intimacy?

After ostomy surgery, people have to learn how to clean and care for their new stoma. In addition, they will have a new responsibility of daily ostomy pouch changes and applications.

In addition, they may go through a wide range of feelings regarding their new ostomy. For instance, some people experience grief, anxiety, or feelings of depression. Plus, they may experience new worries, such as feeling unattractive or having concerns about ostomy pouch leakage, noisy gas, or pain during relations.

On the other hand, you could also experience positive emotions like gratitude or an increase in energy. This may be especially true of those who had physically draining illnesses prior to surgery, such as bowel or bladder cancer, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis.

So yes, the emotional and physical changes of ostomy surgery may have an impact on your life. However, intimacy after healing from ostomy surgery doesn’t have to be off the table. In fact, many people with ostomies have normal, healthy sex lives.

Healthy Physical Intimacy After Ostomy Surgery

Tips for Intimacy When Living with an Ostomy

Let’s go over some helpful tips for physical intimacy after ostomy surgery.

Tip 1. Give yourself time to heal after ostomy surgery.

First, you need to allow your body to heal before diving into any physical activity, including sex. Remember that ostomy surgery is an extensive medical procedure, which can take months to fully heal. Be gentle with yourself and have patience with your body and your new stoma as you recuperate.

Going through a major change like this impacts different people in different ways. While one person might need a longer recovery time before they start thinking about sex again, another person may feel physically ready sooner.

Wondering when it will be safe to have sex after ostomy surgery? Talk to your doctor or a certified ostomy nurse. They’ll have the medical expertise to provide a personalized answer for you.

healing from ostomy surgery takes time so rest and be gentle with yourself

Healing Emotionally After Ostomy Surgery

Part of the healing process may include processing emotions about your new ostomy. For example, you may face issues with body image, self-esteem, and feelings of attractiveness now that you have a stoma. You’ve gone through a major life change, so it’s totally normal to feel this way.

One-on-one talk therapy with a licensed therapist or counselor can be a way to work through some of these feelings, so don’t shy away from that as an option if you’re struggling.

Also, you may really enjoy the sense of community you’ll find in a specialized, supportive group of fellow ostomates. Consider joining an online community where you can talk to others with ostomies about their firsthand experiences, such as the Convatec me+ community.

Also, you may find it helpful to become a part of an in-person or virtual ostomy support group. Try the United Ostomy Associations of America’s helpful Support Group Finder.

Tip 2. Talk to a medical professional about any post-op complications.

After an extensive medical procedure like ostomy surgery, you may experience some side effects that can impact your ability to get intimate. This may be the case if large amounts of the bowel or rectum are removed.

talk to your doctor about any issues after ostomy surgery

Talk to your doctor or a certified ostomy nurse about any issues you may be experiencing, such as:

  • Decreased sex drive
  • Inability to become aroused or maintain an erection
  • Loss of physical sensation around the genital area
  • Pain during sex or other physical activity

We know it can feel embarrassing to talk about private issues like sex and your bodily functions. However, your doctor and nursing staff are there for topics just like this and more. Additionally, they may be able to offer medical advice for how to safely engage in intercourse without hurting your stoma.

Tip 3. Have open, honest communication about your ostomy when it’s time.

Your ostomy is your business so it’s up to you who you tell. Of course, having a colostomy, urostomy, or ileostomy is nothing to feel ashamed of or hide. Still, wanting to keep your ostomy private is completely understandable.

Will people be able to tell I have an ostomy?

It’s highly unlikely that anyone will be able to tell if you have an ostomy in your day-to-day life. Whether working out, hanging out with friends, or going on dates, most ostomates find it’s pretty easy to keep their ostomy pouching system concealed under their clothes.

However, your ostomy pouch will be hard to ignore if you’re planning on getting intimate. Therefore, if you’re dating someone seriously or in a committed relationship, you’ll have to talk about your ostomy with your partner at some point.

How do I tell someone I’m dating about my ostomy?

The best way to approach this is with open, honest communication. Talk plainly about why you had to have an ileostomy, urostomy, or colostomy surgery, including the illness or injury that led to it.

If you have a friend or family member who has been by your side during and after surgery, try practicing this talk with them before trying it on someone you’re dating. The more you practice, the more you’ll feel confident when you decide to bring up your ostomy to the person with whom you’re interested.

The right person will understand the importance of your ostomy to your life and health.

communication about your ostomy is important at the right time

How do I talk with my partner about my ostomy and intimacy?

If you’re in a committed relationship, let your partner be a part of your recovery process. Research shows that your partner’s support (or lack of support) has a big effect on your adjustment to normal life and intimacy with an ostomy.

When you feel ready, make time to discuss how you and your partner both feel about your ostomy. Don’t hide your feelings or fears. Talk about any issues, including your needs regarding physical intimacy together.

If you’re having issues with poor body image and self-esteem after surgery, it may be affecting your feelings about engaging in physical intimacy. Address that with your partner. They may be able to reassure you and talk through those issues.

If you’re ready for intimacy but your partner isn’t, talking through that may help you uncover other concerns. For example, they may be dealing with worries of their own, such as a concern that they might hurt you or your new stoma during physical intimacy.

Tip 4. Get the okay from your doctor.

Once your doctor has given you the green light to start having sex again after ostomy surgery, you and your partner may want to discuss which sexual activities you feel comfortable trying.

Be sure to stay safe and mindful of your stoma. Don’t try any activities that could potentially damage or hurt it. Talk to your doctor or an ostomy nurse if you have concerns about the best way to avoid damaging your stoma during intimacy.

Tip 5. Use options to keep your ostomy discreet.

If you’re concerned about your ostomy being too noticeable or ruining the mood during physical intimacy, don’t be. You have some easy options to keep your ostomy discreet.

Try a mini ostomy bag or stoma cap.

When you’re ready to get physically intimate, consider wearing a smaller, low-profile ostomy pouch, such as Convatec’s SUR-FIT Natura Two-Piece Mini Pouch.

180 Medical also offers high-quality stoma cap options, such as the ActiveLife One-Piece Stoma Cap.

try ostomy mini pouch or stoma cap during intimacy

Of course, these pouches will not hold as much output, so you’ll have to change them soon after. However, they’re a great way to make physical closeness a little easier without worrying about a standard-size ostomy bag getting in the way.

Try out a pouch cover or an opaque ostomy pouch.

While clear ostomy pouches or colostomy bags with viewing windows definitely serve a purpose, it’s understandable that you don’t want the contents of your pouch on display during physical intimacy. Our Ostomy Product Specialists at 180 Medical can help you find the right ostomy supplies for your needs, including opaque ostomy pouch options.

Conceal your ostomy with a discreet wrap or specialized clothing.

You have clothing and accessory options that may help you feel more comfortable about your ostomy pouch during sexual intimacy.

For example, you could try wearing a loose tank top, camisole, or lingerie to help cover your ostomy bag.

Also, Ostomysecrets offers a wide array of clothing options to help conceal and secure ostomy pouches, including full-coverage boxers and underwear as well as ostomy pouch wraps.

If you’re a 180 Medical customer, you can get a discount code for 35% off your first purchase at OstomySecrets. Contact 180 Medical’s Ostomy Specialists to get started with us or to learn more!

180 Medical get a 35% off Ostomy Secrets Discount Code. Contact our specialists to learn more by clicking here.

Tip 6. Avoid pouch leakage with the help of specific ostomy products.

Are you concerned about the risk of dislodging your ostomy pouch or having a sudden ostomy bag leak during intimacy?

First, you may want to empty or change your ostomy bag before engaging in physical intimacy. Alternatively, you can also change your pouch to a stoma cap or mini pouch, as mentioned above.

If you’re still uneasy, you may also want to consider some ostomy products and accessories that can help add more security for your pouch during physical activity.

For example, ease™ Strips are skin-friendly, water-resistant barrier strips that help secure your ostomy skin barrier. Just layer the flexible ease Strips around the edge of your skin barrier or ostomy wafer. This will help keep your ostomy pouch secure and last longer.

Also, many people prefer wearing wraps or ostomy belts, which can provide additional support and security during physical activity or daily wear.

Contact our Ostomy Specialists to go over these and other helpful ostomy product options to keep your ostomy more secure.

ease strips

Tip 7. Eliminate pouch odors.

We get it. No one wants their ostomy bag smells to ruin the mood with a partner. Why not take a shower or bath beforehand? Next, make sure something is attached to your stoma before engaging in any physical activity since you can’t control your stoma output. Be sure to either apply a new pouch or empty your current pouch. For intimate moments, consider wearing mini ostomy bags or stoma caps too.

You may want to try an ostomy pouch deodorant or another ostomy odor-eliminating product. Talk to our Ostomy Product Specialists at 180 Medical about trying products to reduce ostomy pouch odors. Additionally, take a look at our troubleshooting tips for ostomy bag smells.

Also, you could try lighting some scented candles or using a favorite scented room spray, perfume, or cologne on your body or around the room. However, be sure to never use perfume oils or scents not made for ostomies in or on your ostomy bag.

trouble with ostomy pouch smells link to blog

Tip 8. Reduce the risk of gas and pouch ballooning.

If you have an ileostomy or colostomy bag, you may want to talk to your doctor or ostomy nurse about options to reduce gas. If you know in advance that you plan to be intimate with a partner, make sure to avoid common gas-causing culprits in your food, such as sugar substitutes, cabbage, soda, and beans.

Additionally, you may want to ask your doctor if over-the-counter medications such as Gas-X® or Beano® would be right for you.

Tip 9. Remember, intimacy doesn’t always mean intercourse.

Cuddling, kissing, and touching are important parts of physical intimacy with a partner. If you’re dealing with any fear about sexual intercourse after ostomy surgery, talk to your partner about what you can still do together. Focusing on your partner’s needs may also help.

cuddling, hugging, and kissing are great alternatives to intercourse after ostomy surgery

Tip 10. Have fun and stay positive.

Of course, there will be challenges and hiccups along the road of recovery and exploring physical intimacy after ostomy surgery. The best way to face it is with a positive attitude.

For example, if your stoma makes a funny noise during physical intimacy, it’s not the end of the world. Allow room for laughter together and find humor in the small stuff.

Stay positive and make room for laughter and fun, which is all part of healthy intimacy

There are so many reasons to be positive about your ostomy. Maybe it’s given you a second chance at life or maybe now, you can eat that one food you couldn’t before. Maybe your ostomy has improved your health and energy levels. Above all, we hope you find new ways to enjoy life with an ostomy.

If you need additional support in finding the right ostomy supplies for your needs, contact 180 Medical. Our compassionate Ostomy Specialists are ready to help.

ostomy supplies footer linking to ostomy catalog

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is not medical advice. It is not intended as a substitute for consultations with qualified healthcare professionals. For personalized questions requiring medical advice, please seek help from your medical professional or a certified Ostomy Nurse.

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About the Author
Common Issues: Intimacy After Ostomy Surgery
Jessica is the Sr. Marketing Specialist at 180 Medical, and she has been with the company for 15 years. She loves getting to be creative in her role and hearing from customers about the positive impact we've made on their lives.

Outside of work, you can find her hanging out with her husband and their dogs or browsing garden centers (where she will almost certainly buy another houseplant she doesn't really need).