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Sex and Intimacy with an Ostomy

Whether you are single or in a relationship, all of us know that one day we will have to break the news to a new partner that we are or at some point going to be a little different. Even if you’ve been with someone for a long time, the change of having a ‘bag’ can cause a lot of strain on a relationship. Our plumbing might be different but we are still the same. Some of us will definitely feel fragile while others of us might even feel stronger. (if we've gone into remission). But why is it so hard to tell your prospective partner, or even shed light on the worries with your current?

So where to even begin...

"Hello, my name is .... & I have a bag. Nice to meet you". Probably not.....

"Hey, I have a bag know what that is? Of course you don’t - let's not see one another again". Not so friendly...

Or

"Hey hubby/wife, so you know that op I’ve got coming up, well its leaving me with a bag" Upfront maybe a little much...

All of these scenario's aren’t ideal and to be honest it's difficult to know when to bring it up with anyone, let alone a partner or prospective partner. From speaking with many different people there isn’t a right or wrong way to bring it up but it’s best to assess the situation and most of all feel confident. You don’t want to just throw it out there when you're at a funeral reception or with the in-laws at dinner. Do not bring it up until you are ready and my advice is to tell the people who matter. It’s a need to know basis - you are in control of who you tell and when.

So you ask? When do you tell a prospective partner/current partner? Again, this all comes down to acceptance and confidence with your situation. I think if you are dating a guy/girl you usually know whether it’s going anywhere by the 4th or 5th date. If you feel more confident then this may be the 2nd or 3rd. However it is part of you and it is part of your life. So approach the subject following on from when you had the time out of work for recovering? Maybe you left your job, had a sabbatical? Total change of career? Then usually the conversation will flow. If they have a genuine interest in you then they will want to know more about it & the reasons why? We are all human and what we don’t know can scare us. So a little information goes a long way. If you feel confident when telling them about it, they will mirror this and be as confident in asking. If you are nervous and scared, this is perfectly normally and confidence will come. I would suggest waiting, do not do it until you are comfortable.

Obviously when you are partnered it's a different kettle of fish. Maybe he/she was in the appointment and feels just as lost as you? Maybe they weren’t in the appointment and you have to tell them? Either way this is a great way to talk through it together. Bear in mind that being told can be a shock. So let the information sink in and settle before discussing it with your partner in detail. Just be honest. Say they’ve advised surgery and express your emotions and feelings towards it. Suggest exploring the topic together, make it a journey you are both part of that your partner will also have a greater understanding of what “having a bag” is all about. Everyone will have a different journey and it is important to discover what works best for you. This will no doubt be daunting. For example, Someone I spoke to tried on the bags in front of their partner and asked “Am I still sexy?” his answer was you are but the bag isn’t - they are still together and very happy but he prefers it covered. Whilst others accept completely and don’t care about the bag at all. It’s a big change for the both of you so you need to find the best way for you both come to terms with the change.

It's an even bigger change when you haven’t the time to think about it. I have spoken to a few people who have had emergency surgery. They found it is a shock and most expressed the same worry that no one would accept the bag before any other worry had time to set in. They spoke of their wife's/husband’s inability to accept the change, in most of these situations it came out that they hadn’t even spoken to their family to let them express their thoughts. Although stoma nurses are great and help with coming to terms with having an ostomy, social media, groups and different events can all shed light on what it is like to have an ostomy and be in a relationship.

Can I have sex normally after surgery? YES, YES you can. The assumption that things will change when you have surgery is instilled in lack of self confidence, not the physical ability to do so. The subject isn’t spoken about enough, yes this topic can bring up a lot of embarrassment and insecurities but at the end of the day, they are all questions we wondered when we had surgery. I would advise waiting until you are healed. This is a must, you do not want any further complications from an already difficult operation.

I like to give the opinion of someone who is in a relationship and someone who isn’t. Each group has worries and concerns. Some of these will overlap and apply to both. When you are single and about to enter into a sexual relationship, first step, let’s hope you’ve told them! Otherwise, I’m sure you can explain during.... might be a little awkward but it is an option, although one I wouldn’t recommend but hey, there is always a first for it! No seriously. As mentioned above it should be discussed and when it progresses there are things YOU can do to make yourself feel more confident about the situation:

  1. Empty or change your bag before - now this is always recommended by nurses but this isn’t always an option in the heat of passion. So if you know it's a special night then maybe when at the restaurant before going home, go to the loo. Maybe pop in some fragrance drops. If you’re at home, maybe take a couple of loperamide to help slow the output.
  2. Wear underwear which makes you feel confident - or wear a support vest or belt for guys. There are a ton of products on the market to suit your needs in this department. We sell a range of products for both men and women which can be used in intimate moments.
  3. Cover the bag. Now for some, this may not be an issue but for others a bag cover might be suitable and if you want it to be covered throughout sex then a garment which will make sex easier would be advised. Something crotchless, maybe a sexy top, a wrap or a belt. This means it is out of the way & less of a worry for you.
  4. Know your limits. If you know your bag is prone to leaking and you get problems with your skin you can use flange extenders to help secure the bag and maybe go for the option of having it covered as this will add protection and make it less of a concern for you.
  5. Following on from knowing your limits this applies to sex in general. I wouldn’t recommend trying something new for the first time after surgery! Go easy, test positions and take your time. After all the time recovering, you can still be sore, even though in that department you feel fighting fit. Some people experience pain during sex after surgery or problems maintaining an erection these will usually settle when you relax and get used to the changes. If problems do persist then consult your nurse as there might be an underlying problem which is causing this.
  6. If you are fully healed and want to try something new then DO. Do not let your bag be a hindrance when it comes to trying something with your partner. If you feel unconfident, then maybe add role play, costumes and then you can bring out the karma sutra book!

Of upmost importance is to try and let go. Nearly everyone who I have spoken to has had worries during sex or felt their partner was worrying during sex. Now this is normal to start, but if you are worried and continue to feel it comes between you and your partner you need to evaluate what the root cause is.

Maybe it's the worry of having the bag fall off during. Now this is rare - you would need to be doing something very drastic for this to happen but, one way to test your worry is while you are in the shower just try and pull it. Pull it - I know it sounds mad but you will see there is a LOT of force which needs to be put on it before it “falls” off. If this is still a worry then a stoma belt or wrap could be an option.

If the worry is, Do I smell? I can almost GUARANTEE you don’t. Unless you’re opening it up during then, that’s your thing. There are drops on the market to go in the bag if you are worried about the air coming through the filters. Remember that all of the bags are designed for this! They have carbon filters to limit the smell but again if this is still a worry. Then at the top of your bag by the flange apply a little vaseline then spritz some perfume/cologne onto it. That way the perfume/cologne will last and also not be in their face if you are engaging in oral sex.

Might they find it disgusting? Actually I find it disgusting.... This is a common problem encountered by all. Let’s just start with, if they are going to have sex with you, chances are they aren’t disgusted by you at all. Sex is equally a mental connection as it is a physical one. You haven’t changed as a person, you’re still sexy or hot as hell and if you come across that way I can almost promise this entire problem will be rectified. Once one person is comfortable and confident and takes the reigns then this causes the other to relax. But hang on, if you do feel this, then start with intimacy. Kissing, touching and getting to know one another again or for the first time. Maybe, suggest going away. Do something romantic, be the one to make the move as I can promise the other person is feeling the same as you and making the first move will be a breath of fresh air.

Although physically you have changed your ability to have enjoyable, romantic and exciting sex has NOT. Yes, some adjustments can be made to help improve your sex life but you need to remember that confidence is key. Preparation is a fallback.