Sexual side-effects of bowel cancer treatments

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After surgery

Most people have no problem resuming their sex life after bowel surgery. It may be a few weeks before you feel ready.

Others may find it harder, especially if their rectum has been removed (proctectomy). For example, surgery to the rectum can affect the nerves and blood supply to the sexual organs. For men, this may result in problems having an erection and ejaculation. But this usually clears up over time. Surgery to the rectum can make sex painful for some women. This is because the vagina narrows and shortens after surgery. In some cases, this can also bring a loss of sensation or less vaginal secretions. Usually simple solutions, such as lubricants, can help these problems. 

Getting support

If you have any sexual problems after your treatment, talk to your doctor and specialist nurse. They are used to dealing with these type of problems, so there’s no need to feel embarrassed. They can advise you on treatments, give you tips and also refer you for counselling – for you or for you and your partner – if you feel it would help. 

Stomas and sex

  • Body image: If you have a stoma it may change the way you feel about your body. You may also have concerns about how your partner will react. Try to talk to your partner about the way you are feeling. Talking can help to ease your anxiety. If you need more advice, talk to your doctor. He or she can refer you for special counselling if you feel it would help.
  • Food and drink: Try not to eat too much before sex. You could plan times for sex when a bowel movement is less likely. 
  • Managing the pouch: Empty the pouch before sexual intimacy. An empty and flat bag will not become loose from the stoma. It can be rolled up or taped down so it will not get in the way. It is possible to wear decorative covers as well. Smells can also be controlled. 
  • Food and drink
    It is best not to eat too much before sex. Also, watch the types of food you eat if you know there are certain foods that affect your bowel movements. You could plan times for sex when a bowel movement is less likely. Empty the bag before sexual intimacy.
  • Intimacy
    You may be afraid that the bag will interfere with sex, become dislodged or cause damage to the stoma. These are all normal fears. But an empty and flat bag will not become loose from the stoma. It can be rolled up or taped down so it will not get in the way.
  • Decorative covers
    It is possible to wear decorative covers as well. There are also a variety of pouches to suit your needs. There are bands you can wear on your tummy for support and discretion. Your stoma care nurse can give you advice about this.

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