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Intimacy and Body Image Issues With An Ostomy

One of the biggest hurdle for a new ostomate, esp single ostomates, to face may not be the actual surgery itself but rather what comes after the surgery. I'm talking about body image. Now that you have a stoma and a bag hanging off your side, all of a sudden, you may no longer feel sexy and wonder how any new or existing partner could now want to be with you, let alone be intimate with you. Because you feel this way, you may presume that your partner will feel the same way. This is not the case for the majority of partners. Most partners are just glad that you're alive and well and able to be with them. If they can't see you for who you are and accept your ostomy as part of you, do you really want them in your life? Remember, usually, if a stoma is cited as the cause of a break up of a relationship, there were probably some deeper problems already present and the stoma is just a convenient excuse.

How and When Do I Tell a Potential Partner About My Ostomy?

This is really up to you. Some people like to tell new partners straight away so that there are no secrets between them. That way if the partner does end up rejecting them because of their stoma, then they're not too hurt about it since the relationship is still in it's initial stages. Plus, once their "secret" is out, they don't feel as though they're holding anything back and can get on with getting to know their partner better.

Others prefer to wait a while and see if the relationship deepens. That way, they reason, the partner gets a chance to know you as a person and will hopefully see that having a stoma does not change you in any way.

It's probably not a good idea to wait until the last minute when the possiblity of a partner finding out is inevitable.

It is very nerve wracking telling a new partner about your ostomy - there's probably no way around that one. I've had my ostomy for 2/3's of my life and still have a hard time telling partners. Friends and workmates, I have no problem with but partners are another story. I usually start off by saying that I was really sick as a kid and had to have surgery. I then ask if they've ever heard of a colostomy (most people have even though they may not know exactly what it entails). They may even know someone who has had the surgery - you'd be surprised how many do! I then explain that I've had a similar surgery called an ileostomy and must wear a bag at all times. The responses I get range from "Really? I would never have known!" to "So, are you well now?" I then let them ask questions about it and answer them as honestly as I can.

Remember: If you let a partner know that your ostomy doesn't bother you or interfere with your life, then your partner will usually accept that and adopt the same attitude. However, if you're down about your ostomy and explain it in a negative light, then your partner is going to view it in the same way.

One thing that may help is rehearsing what you're going to say beforehand. Think of all the responses you could get to your news and how you will react to those responses. You'll probably think of all the worse case scenarios and be pleasantly surprised by a partner's positive reaction.

Obviously you hope that your partner will not react negatively, but what if they do? Yes, you will be hurt, especially if you already have a negative view of yourself but do you really want a relationship with someone who is so shallow and doesn't see the real you? It does not mean that all the people out there are going to react this way. In fact, you will probably find that very few people, if any, reject you because of your ostomy surgery. There is someone out there for you, who doesn't care how you poop (or urinate) and you will find them. Never in personal ads, have I seen "must have a great sense of humour, be tidy and must poop out of their rectum". How you poop or urinate is not a criteria that people base a relationship on.

Sex and An Ostomy

Will your sex life change because of an ostomy? Probably. For the better most likely. This is because you feel well and are better able to concentrate on things rather than worrying about dashing to the loo in the middle of it all or worry about stomach pains, etc.

Possibly the biggest hurdle in sexual relationships has to do with how you think of yourself. Do you know what the most important sex organ is? Give up? It's the brain! Having an ostomy doesn't mean that you can't enjoy sex, but if you think it does, then you will probably find that you can't enjoy it regardless.

Your altered view of your body could mean that you might not want your partner to see you naked for fear that they'll be disgusted. This is very common amongst both new and experienced ostomates, whether with an existing partner or with a new one. More than likely your partner won't care but you do and therefore you think they do as well. You have to feel comfortable with yourself before you can expect to feel comfortable with other people.

One way to combat this is to buy some sexy lingerie. There are a few places on the net that you can order from and are included on my Ostomy Accessories pages (yes, there are lingerie items for the guys as well!). Lots of people find that by simply tieing a scarf around their middle, wearing a bag cover (add lots of lace, etc to make it look pretty) or wearing a tube top around their waist works well to hide the bag. Others simply go "au natural" and tape their bag down so it doesn't move or fold it up and tape it so the space it takes up is minimised. How you deal with it is up to you as long as you and your partner feel comfortable.

Probably the most important thing is talk over your fears with your partner. They may be wondering why you keep pulling back when things reach a certain level. They may think it's something they've done. Ease their minds and tell them why you are reacting the way you are. An understanding partner can do wonders for your self esteem and help you come to terms with everything and learn to accept yourself.

Also remember, having an ostomy (for the most part) is no barrier to becoming pregnant so make sure you use adequate protection if you are not planning for a family at this time. Some women find that the oral contraceptive pill is not effective for them, especially if they have an ileostomy, since the medication may not be absorbed as it should be so be sure to use other means of contraception as well, just in case.

Possible Physical Complications

A small percentage of female ostomates find that sex can be painful after surgery. The usual reason for this is a tipped uterus, ie the uterus has "tipped" back into the space vacated by the bowel. Please speak to your doctor as often, there is treatment available.

The most common problem for male ostomates can be erectile dysfunction, esp if you've had colostomy surgery due to cancer which in a very small percentage of males can lead to damaged nerves. Usually, this is only temporary and in time, the problem will correct itself. If it does persist, please speak to your doctor. There are a number of ways to get around this, the use of viagra being just one of them (I know several male ostomates who use viagra and report a resounding success with it!).

For further reading try: "Coping With an Ostomy : A Guide to Living With an Ostomy for You and Your Family" by Robert H. Phillips

Copyright 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 Shaz's Ostomy Pages. All rights reserved.
If you would like to use any of the images in these pages, please email me to get permission. Thanks.

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