How IBD Affects My Sex Life
I'm going to hazard a guess and say most people don't find the colon terribly sexy, especially given the bodily process with which it's associated.
Many of us go out of our way to deny to our sexual partners that said process takes place at all, to little avail. (I did have a friend in high school whose dad genuinely didn't know women pooped until he and my friend's mom moved in together.) Ordinarily, it isn't the kind of topic to bring up before sex.
But lately, I haven't had much of a choice.
Love me, love my colon
I was diagnosed in 2017 with ulcerative colitis, following a colonoscopy my doctor ordered after I discussed some ongoing digestive issues with her. At the time, it didn't really faze me too much. My symptoms were mild, and the disease was limited to a very small segment of my colon.
I joined the r/UlcerativeColitis community on Reddit to learn more about the disease, but I couldn't really relate to what I frequently saw posted there: stories about constant diarrhea, stabbing abdominal pain, and diets limited to all but the blandest of foods in an attempt to avoid an upset stomach.
By contrast, I was virtually asymptomatic with the help of low-dose medication. And I assumed, perhaps naively, it would stay that way.
I began to feel sick in mid-December 2020. The feeling wasn't terrible at first, just mild cramps and more frequent trips to the bathroom. Initially, I chalked it up as a premenstrual effect, but the problems continued after my period ended and got progressively worse, too.
My existing symptoms became intense, and I started to feel exhausted and bloated all the time. Between that and my stomach aching, I could barely eat. I was weak and dehydrated, and every now and then, the pain felt like a knife was being twisted into my gut. On Christmas morning, the pain became so unbearable that I went to the emergency room, which, as you can imagine, I was less than psyched to do (especially in light of the whole deadly pandemic thing).
They told me the symptoms and pain were likely related to my colitis. Because of the holidays, I had to wait three days until I could see my gastroenterologist, during which time I tried to sleep and watch as much “Adventure Time” as I could to distract myself from being constantly miserable.
Sex between bouts
A majority of the time, I had no sex drive at all. On rare occasions when I did get mildly horny, the idea of anybody coming within 10 feet of my abdomen made me feel sick. The situation continued that way for about 10 days, until the new medicine my doctor prescribed began to have the desired effect.
For about three days, I felt roughly normal and thought I was mostly out of the woods. My boyfriend and I had sex pretty much anytime I was feeling up to it, since we worried I could get sick again at any moment. But because my symptoms had come on so strongly and so suddenly, my doctor ordered another colonoscopy to see if anything had changed.
The prep process wasn't a whole lot of fun. For those of you who haven't had a colonoscopy, preparation basically involves drinking a bunch of nasty-tasting ultra-strength laxatives until your bowels are completely empty. But I figured once that was over, I'd be through the worst of it.
Apparently, though, colonoscopies are a whole lot rougher on your system when you're in an active flare. My symptoms returned just as bad as ever after the procedure, and my doctor suggested I go to the ER to get an X-ray to make sure my colon hadn't been perforated. Thankfully, it hadn't, but I did find myself right back where I started.
And until I felt better, sex was out of the question. Ordinarily, I would have missed the intimacy—I have a pretty healthy libido—but it's difficult to think about sex when you're in such discomfort.
Gratitude for my boyfriend & my bowels
About a week later, I finally started to turn the corner. Slowly, I became a functional human being again.
Since then, I definitely have a newfound appreciation for my health. I no longer spend all day alternately doubled over in pain, in bed or on the toilet, and I don't have to worry that eating anything besides white rice or applesauce will wreak havoc on my digestive system. I'm able to have sex when we're both in the mood, not just during a brief 10-minute period when I don't feel like hot garbage.
All in all, I think I'm pretty lucky. I know I would've felt significantly more awkward had this happened when I was seeing someone casually or early on in my now long-term relationship. My boyfriend and I have been together long enough that he had already seen me sick and gross and cranky before my colitis flare, which made me feel much less self-conscious. I didn't feel the need to pretend I wasn't in pain or completely unaroused, or that I had never pooped in my life.
But colitis is episodic, and I know it will almost certainly come back (hopefully, quite a while from now). And I do worry about the impact it will have on my sex life. I've seen people on Reddit complain about months-long flares, and I imagine that being in a relationship without having sex for that long could put significant strain on both of us.
And although I'm not hugely into anal play, I don't want it to be completely off the table. But I worry that exploring back there at all could trigger a nightmarish episode.
The most I can do now is appreciate my current health and sex life while I can, knowing it won't last forever. It's not the most optimistic outlook, but hey, that's life with a chronic disease.