Intimacy & IBD Symptoms
Intimacy is not something we talk about often enough when living with IBD. People living with many of the symptoms that come with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis have a hard time talking about issues and symptoms they may have because it not only affects them physically but also emotionally. Due to this, we put walls up and often times don’t talk about it at all.. even to others who struggle with the same issues.
Intimacy can be painful
Because of another condition, I live with, Endometriosis, intimacy can actually be very painful and not pleasurable at all. I try to talk to my partner when the time is right, but how do you actually know when the time is right?! I’m going to go into a little bit of detail (some may make you cringe, but they need to be talked about & others need to hear that they aren’t alone!) so here is a warning ahead of time if you are uncomfortable about the topic.
Hiding because of self-esteem
I have been dealing with biologic-induced psoriasis for a few months now, but right now it’s at it’s worst and not only is it visible, but my partner can also tell how much it bothers me because of agitation and anxiety. He has been a blessing to me. He’s not afraid to touch me, which I thought may be the case. When I’ve been having obvious plaques, I have been so hesitant to wear anything besides long sleeves and socks and pants. He’s been incredible and has never been wary of the myth that touching psoriasis will cause another person to get it too. He’s gentle with those areas and he’s not afraid to touch them. I’m grateful for that for so many reasons, but the most obvious one to me is my self-esteem.
Take things slow and communicate
I talked a little about pain during sex. Did you know this is pretty common in women with IBD? Because many women who have experienced several types of surgeries or have issues with pelvic floor functions, it may hurt for a variety of reasons. If you experience Crohn’s of the Vulva, your experience with sex with differs quite drastically than others who may not experience those painful symptoms. My advice to you is: take things slow, be honest with your partner and if sex hurts too much, explore other options. Whatever makes you feel most comfortable while dealing with symptoms is what is most important.
Fistulas and abscesses
Perianal IBD can cause a lot of discomfort as well, which can lead to a lot of anxieties and hesitation. If you’re reading this and this rings true, you are not alone. Fistulas and abscesses are another major barriers to intimacy. At any given time, I usually have 1-2 abscesses on my bottom or in my groin which are extremely painful. If you need surgery to get an abscess lanced or repair your fistula, recovery can, unfortunately, take a lot longer than anticipated sometimes. And it’s a painful process for the person recovering. I tend to be very self-conscious when it comes to how my abscesses visually look, which gets me down.
There are other ways to be intimate
Cramps are always a toss-up because you truly don’t know what will come of them. Are they just normal cramps without diarrhea? Best to just leave things be, in my opinion. There have been times that I just don’t really feel well enough and have fared well by offering to give my partner a hand massage or play a fun game together. There will always be substitutes for sexual activity when you aren’t feeling well and when your body is just not put together well enough to even grasp the thought of being intimate.
Intimacy and IBD can go together. For many people, things just have to feel physically safe. I will always recommend talking to your GI or your colorectal surgeon about any type of sexual activity if you have any hesitations at all. Intimacy isn’t always sexual activity. Intimacy comes from wanting to be with one another and truly enjoying each other’s company. Don’t ever feel shame because you may be unable to do certain things or physically love your partner the way you would like to without any type of physical trauma your body has experienced. Take it slow, be as open and honest as possible, and find alternative ways to keep your relationship fun, flirty and adventurous.
Will you help us understand the impact of Crohn's & colitis by taking the IBD In America Survey (US only)?