Re-establishing intimate relationships

Intimate activities in the post-operative period

A person’s impression of their own body influences how they feel to a great extent. This image also plays an important role in understanding oneself. After ostomy, many people need some time to adapt to the new situation and accept the changes on their body. For this, it is important to take as much time as it is necessary. Intimate life is also one of the domains which is characterised by new questions and challenges after ostomy.

The first and most important thing to remember is that the stoma is not an obstacle to sexual relations and it is quite possible to maintain a satisfactory intimate life with it. It is an important part of your life, which you need to continue with after surgery. However, it should be taken into account that different types of stoma introduce different changes in the functioning of your body. Due to all of the above, the relationship between partners, trust and good communication form the basis of a successful return to old habits with your partner.

Initial challenges

Many people avoid intimate contacts in the post-operative period. One of the reasons is emotional exhaustion, physical weakness after surgery, fear of injuring your stoma, etc. The presence of each of the emotions is completely normal and as such should not worry you or prevent you from fulfilling your desires.

Emotional challenges

Feelings associated with getting a diagnosis, time spent in the hospital, surgery itself and therapy put a great emotional load on the patients’ back. It is a great challenge to accept what is happening to you and to find the desire and strength to return to all aspects of life which were important to you before, including intimacy.

Moreover, changes on your own body present a major psychological challenge. The change of appearance often leads to rethinking one’s identity. Along come the fear of not fulfilling other people’s expectations, the fear of potential rejection and doubting your own attraction.

The path to accepting a new self-image is different in every person. On this path, do not hesitate to seek and accept all the help that is available to you, and there is really an abundance of sources — from medical staff, associations and communities to people who share their personal experiences of living with ostomy on social networks and various other platforms. Many of them have recognised intimate life as an important topic and they have paid a lot of attention to it.

It is very important to remember that no one is immune to such insecurities and fears. They affect all people to some extent - before, during and after an illness, with or without a stoma.

Physical challenges

In addition to the emotional aspect, physical exhaustion is also one of the initial obstacles on the patient’s way to returning to their old habits. After surgery, you will probably be tired, weak and sensitive to pain, but there is no reason to completely rule out intimacy as such. Together with your partner, you will decide when the best time for each step is. It is also important to remember that the initial weakness will pass, but patience and respect for one’s own body and its needs are necessary.

Discovering your own pace

It is good in this period to seek and allow physical closeness and intimate activities


that do not necessarily lead to intercourse as such. You can use this time to gradually discover how your body reacts to different stimuli after ostomy, to try out what suits or does not suit you as well as be creative. Listen to your natural pace, slowly follow your instincts, go step by step until you feel that you are ready for each step. Do not put pressure on yourself and don’t give yourself any deadlines. Remember that you do not have to meet anyone’s expectations, but to discover what you want and what works for you.

Your partner

Until you regain your full strength, you can find satisfaction in focusing on your partner’s needs. In this way, you can deepen your relationship and explore new spheres of satisfaction that you may not have given so much attention to before.

The importance of communication

The prerequisites for the successful establishment or re-establishment of intimate relationships are primarily communication and trust. There are many unknowns that you will face together with your partner. Do not expect that everything will be resolved spontaneously — you should start talking about them, and not just passively observe how things evolve. Starting a conversation is probably the most difficult part of this process, but open communication will undoubtedly lead to positive effects.

Causes of potential difficulties

How much time will pass after surgery until you are physically ready for sexual relations depends primarily on your physical condition. The stoma itself, as already mentioned, is not an obstacle to it, but patients sometimes notice difficulties after the operation and mistakenly attribute their cause to ostomy.

The cause of them can be psychological, e.g. depression, feeling of physical deformation, doubting your own physical attraction, etc. In such situations it might be helpful to talk to your partner, psychologist, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. It is commonly said that the largest sexual organ in humans is the brain, and not without reason. The brain is the centre of all intimate activities.

Also, the medicines you are taking can have a negative effect on your libido, especially if you are on antidepressants.

Apart from everything that is already mentioned, potential barriers might be physical weakness, a lack of strength in the abdomen, tenderness and pain. Because your abdomen is weakened, you may also notice a difference in the way you stand, walk or carry difficult things. It is important to gradually regain strength and find positions in which you are most comfortable.

Your diagnosis and the nature of the operation itself may lead to temporary difficulties such as dryness of the vagina, pain, erectile dysfunction or inability to ejaculate, but the cause to all this is not ostomy, and they can be solved by a variety of available techniques. You can find out more about them from your doctor and in other articles in our Knowledge centre.

Finally, let us repeat that the main factors that will help you re-establish a satisfactory intimate life are patience, listening to your own body, creativity and communication with your partner. An active approach to education about your own sexuality will bring you an unburdened relationship with your body and other people’s bodies, and avoid pressure as well as misdirected and counterproductive efforts.



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