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Sexual relationships and intimacy are important and fulfilling aspects of your life that should continue after ostomy surgery. But there is a period of adjustment after surgery, and some ostomies can affect intimate relationships more than others. Communication is a key factor in re-establishing sexual expression and intimacy.
Ostomy surgery may present more concerns for single people. When you choose to tell that someone special depends on the type of stoma you have, and the relationship you have with the other person.
If you have a tracheostomy, you may want to clear secretions in the tube or stoma before having intimate contact.
If you have an abdominal ostomy, you may want to empty the pouch beforehand.
Discuss any sexuality concerns you have with your partner. A stoma is quite a change in how you look and can make you feel anxious and self-conscious. It’s likely that your partner will be anxious about sex, too, and may be afraid of hurting your stoma or dislodging the equipment. Talk to your partner about the fact that sex is not likely to harm the stoma. Try to be warm, tender, and patient with each other.
For people with abdominal ostomies, sexual function may or may not change. Women could sometimes have pain during sex. Men may have trouble getting and keeping an erection. Their sexual potency may sometimes be affected for a short time. These problems usually get better with time.
Body contact during sex will usually not hurt the stoma. People with a tracheostomy need to be sure the tube is secure and protected, and may need to try different positions. People with abdominal ostomies can also vary positions if the pouch or stoma is in the way.
For people with abdominal ostomies, the type of intimate clothing that is worn may need to change. For example, women may consider wearing open panties, “teddies,” intimacy wraps, or a short slip or nightie. Men may consider wearing a wrap or cummerbund around the midsection to secure the pouch. You can buy many types of pouch covers or you can make your own.
For more detailed information, see Sex and the Man With Cancer or Sex and the Woman With Cancer.
Pregnancy is possible for women who have had ostomy surgery. The ostomy itself is not a reason to avoid pregnancy. But before you plan to get pregnant you should talk about it with your doctor. If you are healthy, the risk during childbirth appears to be no greater than for other mothers. Of course, any other health problems must be considered and discussed with your doctor.
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
In its original form this document was written by the United Ostomy Association of America (1962-2019). It has since been modified and updated by the American Cancer Society using the following sources.
Everitt E. Tracheostomy 3: care of patients with permanent tracheostomy. Nursing Times. 2016;112(21/22/23):17-19.
Hollister. Living with an ostomy: Sex and parenthood. Accessed at https://www.hollister.com/~/media/files/pdfs–for–download/ostomy–care/living–with–an–ostomy_sex–and–parenthood_923125-0417.pdf on October 2, 2019.
Hollister. Caring for your loved one with a colostomy. Accessed at https://www.hollister.com/~/media/files/pdfs–for–download/ostomy–care/caring–for–a–loved–one–with–ostomy_923058-0318.pdf on October 2, 2019.
United Ostomy Association of America (UOAA). New ostomy patient guide: Colostomy, ileostomy, urostomy, continent diversion. Accessed at https://www.ostomy.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/All-In-One-New-Patient-Guide_2018.pdf on October 2, 2019.
Last Revised: October 2, 2019
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