Staying Sexually Connected When You Have Crohn's Disease


Laura Ramos Hegwer

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Most people with Crohn’s disease can enjoy fulfilling sex lives. However, uncomfortable symptoms or emotional issues can sometimes dampen your desire. Some treatments for Crohn’s disease, such as surgery or certain medicines, can also interfere with intimacy.
Sex and intimacy go a long way toward enhancing our quality of life. If you’re aiming to maintain a strong physical connection with your partner, consider these suggestions for better intimacy.

Open Up

It’s normal for partners to feel some resentment if their loved one is sick and uninterested in sex. Even though it may be difficult, it’s important to share these feelings and work them out. Otherwise, anger and frustration can grow, and you’ll both feel unloved.

If you’re not in the mood, talk about what’s holding you back. Try not to hide how you’re feeling physically or emotionally. Let your partner know how you really feel and listen carefully to your partner's response. Sharing what concerns you can actually bring you closer to your partner.

Coping for Men

Many factors can affect a man’s sexuality if he has Crohn’s disease. No sex drive? Sometimes, steroid medicines are to blame.

Trouble keeping an erection? Impotence isn’t unusual, and most of the time it’s temporary. Some medicines for Crohn’s disease may cause a decrease in sexual function. So can surgery, although this is rare. To maintain erections, consider prescription medicines or an erection ring, which is a drug-free option. Before you start or stop any medicine, be sure to talk with your doctor.

Coping for Women

Among women with inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s, mood disorders such as depression often interfere with intimacy. If you’re dealing with depression, consider talking with a counselor or therapist. Another option is a support group, which offers a comfortable, encouraging environment for people with Crohn’s disease to vent and share solutions about relationships and other issues.

Unhappy with your body? It’s not uncommon for the symptoms of Crohn’s disease to have a negative effect on body image. Medicines like prednisone also can affect body image by contributing to weight gain. When thinking about your body, try to focus on the big picture— all the aspects that make you attractive.

Painful intercourse? Your doctor may be able to prescribe a hormonal cream or suppository that you insert in your vagina. If vaginal dryness is an issue, a lubricating jelly can also help. And avoid smoking, which causes vaginal dryness.

If You Wear a Pouch

Some people with Crohn’s disease have surgery to remove the rectum and wear an external pouch to collect waste. This can be a difficult adjustment, especially when it comes to intimacy. If you don’t want your partner to see your pouch, you can cover it up with a short nightie or a specially designed covering. Many men wear a wide belt-like covering to protect the pouch.

If you’re concerned about leakage, empty the pouch and make sure it’s secure before your romantic time. During sex, try to experiment with different positions so the pouch isn’t in the way.

Creating Intimacy

Sexual activity and intimacy has many meanings. Physical intimacy can be achieved in many different ways. If your symptoms are acting up and intercourse just isn’t an option, consider exploring ways to be sexually intimate without having intercourse. For example, kissing, hugging, and massage can help create feelings of warmth and connectedness. Other options include manual stimulation, oral sex, and masturbation. All can be worked into love play in a way that’s pleasurable and promotes intimacy.

However you engage sexually, choose activities that are enjoyable and acceptable to both you and your partner.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Apr 2, 2015

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View Sources

Medical References

  1. Determinants of Female Sexual Function in Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A Survey Based Cross-Sectional Analysis. A Timmer et al. BioMed Central Gastroenterology. October 3, 2008, vol. 8, p. 45.
  2. Inflammatory bowel disease fact sheet. Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  3. The Intimate Relationship of Sex and IBD. Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America.
  4. Sex and the Male Ostomate Fact Sheet. United Ostomy Association of America.

  5. Sex and the Single Ostomate Fact Sheet. United Ostomy Association of America.

  6. Sex and the Female Ostomate Fact Sheet.United Ostomy Association of America.

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