Colorectal Cancer

Sexuality and relationships with a stoma

Having a colostomy or ileostomy can profoundly affect your self-image, social confidence, and feelings about your sexuality. While people with stomas can and do have full physical relationships, inhibitions about physical appearance, fears about what might happen to the bag during sex, and ongoing health problems or side effects from other treatments can pose problems. The stress of learning to live with a stoma and difficulties with its daily management can also put a strain on domestic relationships. Many people deal with these problems successfully and continue to live full lives. 

The issue of sex for stoma patients was one that people felt was extremely important but in the majority of cases had not been addressed by any of their health professionals. Only one person said that she had been offered information about sex and stoma by a health professional but she was too ill at the time to be sexually active.

One other women had herself raised the subject with a stoma nurse. Many people felt that the failure of health professionals to raise the subject of sex was a problem. One woman, who counsels other cancer patients, believes that while health professionals deal with the basics they often neglect important quality of life issues such as sex. 

All of the people who discussed sex and stoma said they had supportive partners. Many said that it was their partner's positive attitude about their sexual relationship that helped them come to terms with it themselves. One woman, who was diagnosed with bowel cancer after just a year with a new partner, explains how his support helped her overcome her fears for their relationship. For another woman and her husband, resuming their sexual relationship was part of the healing process.

Several people focussed on the psychological impact of a stoma on their sexuality. One man describes how his stoma affected him and reflects on how it might affect others. Another man preferred to avoid sex until his stoma could be reversed. When the reversal proved impossible he had to reconsider the situation.

For more about emotional issues see: 'Feelings about stomas'.

Last reviewed August 2016.

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