Are IBS symptoms like gas and bloating stopping you from getting busy? Taking steps to manage IBS and being honest with your partner can help get you back in the mood.
Picture it: You and your partner are fooling around when you experience a gas attack or feel a sudden urge to use the bathroom.
If you’re living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), symptoms such as bloating, gas, and abdominal pain can really kill the mood.
But it’s still possible to have a healthy and enjoyable sex life, whether you’re in a committed relationship or playing the field.
Here’s the 411 on how IBS can affect dating and sex and what you can do to bring your sexy back.
IBS is a digestive condition that affects 10% to 15% of people in North America. IBS is a diagnosis of exclusion, which means you’ll get an IBS diagnosis if no other health conditions explain your abdominal pain and bowel symptoms.
“IBS-C” is the term for a type of IBS that mainly causes constipation. If you’re constipated, you may:
- have fewer than three bowel movements per week
- pass hard, dry, or lumpy stools
- experience difficulty or pain when trying to poop
Along with constipation, people with IBS-C often experience symptoms such as:
- abdominal pain
- a feeling that the bowel isn’t completely empty after going to the bathroom
These symptoms can significantly affect your quality of life, including your sex life.
A 2019 survey of 3,254 people with IBS found that the participants with IBS-C were more likely to avoid sex than people with diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D). They were also more likely to feel self-conscious about their bodies, which may be due to IBS-C-associated symptoms such as bloating or a swollen belly.
Feeling backed up and bloated is the last thing you want when you’re trying to get in the mood or go out on a date, which is why IBS-C can affect both new and established relationships.
Some studies suggest that sex can trigger IBS symptoms and that people with IBS are more likely to report pain during sex and more severe IBS symptoms after sex.
What’s more, stress and anxiety are well-known IBS symptom triggers, so those first date or pre-sex jitters may very well worsen your symptoms.
That’s because the brain can influence the function of your enteric nervous system, which is your gastrointestinal tract’s own independent nervous system. Think of the gut-brain axis as a communication network that links the enteric nervous system with the central nervous system. This allows your brain to influence your gut and your gut to influence your mood. It can be a real vicious cycle!
This means the feelings and emotions that come with and after sex and the anticipation of a romantic encounter can trigger IBS-C symptoms such as bloating and pain.
Constipation and bloating can make sex painful and uncomfortable for anyone.
Let’s face it: When you’re gassy and constipated, getting intimate is probably the last thing you feel like doing.
Additionally, women with IBS-C commonly report experiencing dyspareunia — genital pain that occurs before, during, or after sex.
People with IBS-C may choose to avoid sexual encounters, especially when they’re dealing with significant symptoms.
Sexual dysfunction in people with IBS may be directly related to symptom severity. Chances are that taking steps to manage your IBS can help improve your sex life and self-confidence.
And there’s a lot you can do to manage your IBS and reduce your symptoms.
Make some dietary changes
Many people with IBS report that certain foods can trigger or worsen their IBS symptoms. Research suggests that diets that cut out potentially problematic foods and ingredients can be helpful for people with IBS.
Diets that have been shown to be effective include gluten-free diets, low FODMAP diets, and diets high in specific fibers.
If you’re interested in changing your diet or trying out an elimination diet to better understand how foods affect your symptoms, consider working with a doctor or a registered dietitian who specializes in digestive diseases. They can give you evidence-based dietary tips and recommend supplements that may help reduce IBS-C symptoms.
Try to reach or maintain a moderate weight
Having high body fat levels is linked to an increased risk of digestive diseases such as IBS, and being overweight is associated with more severe symptoms in people who already have IBS. Plus, medical treatments for IBS, such as medications, may be less effective in people who are overweight.
There’s also a strong link between obesity and constipation in general. If a doctor suggests that losing weight could help you manage your IBS-C symptoms, speak with them about the best way to do that.
Talk with your doctor
It’s important to have a trusting and open relationship with a doctor who can help you manage your IBS. Be honest about your symptoms and how they’re affecting your sex and dating life.
Your doctor may recommend certain medications and supplements that can help improve IBS-C symptoms, such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors and fiber supplements. They may also order tests to rule out underlying causes of your symptoms, such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.
Whether you’re prepping for a date or just want to get busy with a longtime partner, there’s plenty you can do to improve your physical and emotional comfort level.
Here are some tips that may help you get — and stay — in the mood:
- Avoid known trigger foods: Most people with IBS have certain foods that trigger or worsen their symptoms. Obviously, it’s best to avoid trigger foods whenever possible, but this is especially important if you want to feel comfortable before a date or a sexual experience.
- Practice some relaxation techniques: Stress is a common IBS symptom trigger. While it’s not possible to avoid all stress, taking a soothing bath before sex or a date or trying out a guided meditation may help you feel less stressed, which could reduce your IBS symptoms.
- Be honest with your partner: Many people with IBS feel embarrassed about their symptoms and may not be open with their sexual partner about their concerns around sex. Having an honest conversation with your partner can take some pressure off the situation and build trust. This can help you relax and may reduce certain symptoms.
- Make sex more comfortable: If you’re feeling gassy or bloated, certain sex positions, like Doggy-Style, may be a no-go. Depending on how you’re feeling, try out positions that may be more comfortable for you, like Missionary. If you’d usually be into penetrative sex but you’re just not feeling it, you can always try other ways to be intimate, like oral sex or a makeout sesh.
- Work with a therapist: If anxiety or self-esteem issues around IBS are really taking a toll on your confidence and sex life, a mental health professional may be able to help.
Most importantly, if you’re not feeling well, don’t feel pressured to have sex.
Take advantage of times when your symptoms are mild or nonexistent so sex can be a comfortable and enjoyable experience.
If you’re living with IBS-C, symptoms such as bloating and abdominal pain may interfere with your sex life. But there’s plenty you can do to reduce your IBS symptoms and make sex more enjoyable.
Changing your diet, visiting your doctor, and being open and honest with sexual partners are just some of the ways you can improve your sex life when living with IBS-C.