Regardless of a person’s age, diagnosis, or sexual preference, ostomy surgery infringes on the high value society places on beauty, body, sexuality, cleanliness, and self-control. Changes to the body after ostomy surgery are not only visible to the individual who had the surgery, but also to the sexual partner… Even well informed people have difficulty making these adjustments.

Sexuality after Ostomy Surgery

The possibility of an ostomy is an oft-cited fear among newly diagnosed colorectal cancer patients, and even keeps some individuals away from getting screened for the disease. It may be difficult to believe, but some are so afraid of the possibility that they would rather subscribe to the deadly idea that “ignorance is bliss.”

Regardless of your age, gender, marital status or sexual orientation, you will continue to be a sexual being even if you join the thousands of men and women currently living with colostomies or ileostomies. That’s not to say that you won’t experience changes in your bedroom habits- and this blog post will attempt to address those changes and point you towards resources that will help you take care of your beautiful (sexy!) self.

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Treating sexual dysfunction as a side effect

The sexual wellbeing of cancer patients has received increased interest from medical and psychological professionals in the past decade. Sexual dysfunction is not sexual failure– it simply means that your body is have trouble with the physiological processes that lead to arousal or orgasm. The CCAC therefore encourages you to discuss any sexual concerns in a frank, open discussion with your physician.

Afraid it will be embarrassing? Consider this: would you neglect to tell your healthcare team about physiological changes in your skin or pain in your stomach? Then why neglect to tell them about physiological changes in your genitals or pain during intercourse?

Confidence changes

It’s difficult to fit the media’s very narrow definition of what is sexy, and many ostomates fear being altogether “banned” from feeling desirable because of their new apparatus. The taught, smooth abdomens of celebrity models don’t exactly hint at the digestive processes happening inside, do they?

Added to feelings of inadequacy are the anxieties a new ostomate experiences about  the possibility of odour or leakage- neither of which are likely if the proper precautions are followed. To reduce anxiety and increase confidence during sexual encounters, the UOAA suggests:

  • Emptying the pouch before engaging in sexual activity and securing with tape
  • Changing to a smaller, closed-end, disposable pouch before romantic encounters
  • A cummerbund or sexy lingerie-inspired cover-up if insecure about pouch visibility or if movement of the pouch is a concern
  • Experimenting with personal lubricants for dryness
  • Trying a variety of positions- “man on top” and “side by side” positions may be most comfortable at first.

Still not convinced that an ostomate can feel sexy? Jessica Grossman is a gorgeous model- whose ileostomy pouch is often the star of her photoshoots. She speaks about her experiences at Uncover Ostomy.

Physical changes

Of course, the changes aren’t just in your brain- your pelvic/abdominal region has undergone significant changes, too. During surgery, blood vessels and nerves involved in having and maintaining erections or creating natural lubrication could be damaged, and the removal of the rectum and closing of the anus may impede your ability to maintain the sexual practices you have already established.

Full communication with your partner and your doctor is the best way to manage physical sexual side effects.

A word about protection

Women with colostomies and illeostomies can get pregnant- and can produce beautiful, healthy babies with regular prenatal care. A male ostomate’s ability to reproduce may not be affected either- so adequate protection is still absolutely necessary if you are not intent on conceiving. Similarly, Sexually Transmitted Diseases don’t care if you have had an ostomy!

Support groups

The United Ostomy Association of Canada can help you find more information about support groups in your area, or point you towards online groups. Find out more at www.ostomycanada.ca or contact the CCAC at 1-877-50-COLON (26566).

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RESOURCES

Intimacy After Ostomy Surgery by Gewn B. Turnbull. The full guide can be found on the United Ostomy Associations of America website here.

The Canadian Cancer Society publication Sexuality and cancer: A guide for people with cancer. It can be downloaded here.