Intimacy and sexuality when you have a colostomy

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. Your attitude is a key factor in re-establishing sexual expression and intimacy. Sexual function in women is usually not changed, but sexual potency of men may sometimes be affected for a short time. Anal sex may not be possible after surgery, even if the rectum has not been removed. Talk to your doctor and/or ostomy nurse about any questions, problems, or concerns you or your partner might have.

Any sexuality concerns you have are best discussed openly between you and your partner. A stoma on your belly is quite a change in how you look and can make you feel anxious and self-conscious. It’s likely that your partner may be anxious about sex, too, and may be afraid of hurting your stoma or dislodging the pouch. 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.

The first time you become intimate after surgery things may not go perfectly. Men may have trouble getting and keeping an erection and women sometimes have pain during sex. These problems usually get better with time. Your interest in sex is likely to return as your strength returns and you get better at managing your pouch system. Body contact during sex will usually not harm the stoma or loosen the pouch. If the pouch or stoma covering seems to be in the way during sex, try different positions or use ostomy accessories to support the pouching system.

If possible, empty the pouch beforehand. Women may consider wearing open panties, wraps, “teddies,” or a short slip or nightie. Men may consider wearing a wrap or cummerbund around the midsection to secure the pouch. There are many types of pouch covers that can be purchased or you can make your own.

Ostomy surgery may present more concerns for single people. When you choose to tell that special someone depends on the relationship. Brief casual dates may not need to know. If the relationship grows and is leading to physical intimacy, your partner needs to be told about the ostomy before sex.

For more, see the Fertility and Sexual Side Effects section.


Pregnancy is possible for women who have colostomies. But before you plan to get pregnant you should talk about it with your doctor. The colostomy itself is not a reason to avoid pregnancy. 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.

In its original form this document was written by the United Ostomy Association, Inc. (1962-2005) and reviewed by Jan Clark, RNET, CWOCN and Peg Grover, RNET. It has since been modified and updated by:

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: December 2, 2014 Last Revised: December 2, 2014

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