Intimacy and Sexuality When You Have an Ostomy

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.

Ostomy surgery may present more concerns for single people. When you choose to tell that someone special 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.

If possible, empty the pouch beforehand.

Discuss any sexuality concerns you have with 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 will 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.

Sexual function in women is usually not changed, but they 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 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.

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 with an ostomy

Pregnancy is possible for women who have had ostomy surgery. But before you plan to get pregnant you should talk about it with your doctor.

The ostomy 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: June 2, 2017 Last Revised: June 12, 2017

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