Managing your Crohn’s symptoms, being open with your partner, and finding new ways to be intimate can help you maintain an active and healthy sex life.
If you’ve got bloating, gas, urgency, and chronic pain — all symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease — getting busy in the bedroom may be the last thing on your mind. And that’s OK.
Or it might be something that’s on your mind, but it may feel kind of complicated. Body image concerns, worry over having a candid convo with your partner, and unpredictable symptoms might all present what feel like obstacles.
Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), doesn’t have to crush your sex life. Here, we’ll cover some tips for keeping your sex life active and healthy, even with a serious chronic condition. And we’ll offer ways for being intimate without sex when the mood just isn’t there.
Maybe you’ve been cuffed with someone for a while or you’re just doing some Netflix and chill with a new sex partner. Either way, talking with the person you plan to get intimate with can help.
Some research suggests that solid intimate partner communication can boost sex life. Plus, communication can help reduce anxiety surrounding sex.
So, how do you talk with your partner about Crohn’s in general, your needs in the bedroom, and anything that might arise? Crohn’s & Colitis UK has a “Talking Toolkit” that’s a good jumping-off point. Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong way to talk about Crohn’s and sex.
Your chronic condition is, of course, a big part of your life. Likely, when talking to a potential partner, you share details about other facets of your life and identity, such as where you were raised or whether you’re an only child, your hobbies, and whether you like pineapple on your deep dish. Approaching the conversation about Crohn’s as another life detail can make the convo come a little easier.
Start with the basics about your condition and how it affects you. When it comes to talking about sex specifically, topics to potentially cover include:
- planning for intimacy vs. spontaneity
- what positions feel best and don’t exacerbate symptoms
- how to handle symptoms when they arise during sex
- ways to be intimate when intercourse is off the table
Finding effective treatments for Crohn’s in general can help prevent or ease symptoms that may crop up during coitus. Talk with your doctor if your current treatments feel inadequate or aren’t improving your quality of life.
Planning for sex, rather than going at it on a whim, may also help you best prepare your body and prevent and manage symptoms for doing the delightful deed.
Keep in mind that sexual dysfunction is more common among people with IBD.
About 20% of men and 52% of women with IBD say they’ve experienced it. By comparison, in the general population, the prevalence of sexual dysfunction ranges from 5% in men to 30% in women. Sexual dysfunction is also more prevalent among people assigned female at birth in general, and the same is true for people assigned female at birth who have Crohn’s.
Sexual dysfunction can encompass many things, from lack of libido and inability to orgasm to pain with penetration.
Treatment for sexual dysfunction varies according to symptoms. So, talk with your doctor about potential treatments. One option that may help is pelvic floor physical therapy, which can assist with aspects of mind-body connection and more.
Anyone, regardless of a chronic condition, may have sexual positions that work well for them — and ones that do not. Some positions may cause discomfort or pain. A little trial and error will help determine which sexual positions are your faves and which ones just don’t work for you with Crohn’s.
If you have an ostomy bag, you can still try the positions that tend to work for you. But you may need to add a little extra planning into your repertoire.
For example, you might want to empty the pouch prior to sex, double check that connections are secure, or wear something specific that helps secure the pouch, such as a pouch cover, undergarment, or cummerbund. Again, what works for you may be different than what works for someone else who has Crohn’s.
If feeling sexy feels complicated with Crohn’s, you’re not alone. Body image issues are a concern for more than two-thirds of people with IBD. Body image issues can contribute to depression and anxiety. If you’re experiencing a negative self-image, consider talking with a therapist.
A therapist can help you focus on the personal attributes you feel positive about, practice gratitude, engage in confidence-boosting self-care, and more. Support groups may also be of help to understand that others are facing similar struggles. Plus, you may find inspiration for developing a more positive body image by learning from others.
Talking with your partner can also be helpful. Remember, they are attracted to you for more than just physical reasons, just as you are attracted to them. Imagine if the situation were reversed. If they had Crohn’s or another condition, your attraction to and love for them would be unchanged.
Sure, sex is incredibly intimate, but intimacy isn’t all about sex. In fact, intimacy doesn’t have to include sex at all.
Intimacy can involve many other practices, from holding hands to cuddling to having long, thoughtful conversations that help you to better know and therefore appreciate your partner — and vice versa.
You can also build intimacy through shared experiences, like travel, taking a cooking class, putting a puzzle together, playing a board game, or watching a movie.
No conversation about sex and intimacy would be complete without a note on consent. You never have to engage in any type of touch if it’s not what you want. And you can revoke consent at any time if you change your mind — no matter what.
Crohn’s disease can stop you from feeling frisky for a number of reasons, ranging from body image issues and sexual dysfunction to difficulty talking with your partner about what you’re going through. But there are steps you can take to get your sex life back on track.
If you’re experiencing sexual dysfunction or if your Crohn’s symptoms are interfering with sex, talk with a doctor about your treatment options.
Speaking with a therapist can help you find ways to manage body image issues and build confidence.
And having an open conversation with your partner can help them better understand how Crohn’s affects you. Together, you can find ways to build intimacy, even during those times when sex is off the table.