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Sex is a big part of any relationship, it’s what breaks down the difference between love and friendship. It’s what creates an intimate bond between two people, cancelling out the question of just being great friends. Although a relationship generally causes the pair of you to become best friends, without sex there is no beyond, it's almost as if the pair of you just like hanging out with each other... a lot.

For many people, sex can become an issue after surgery. It can become a fear, a worry, or a question of whether your partner will still want you intimately. Some people with an ostomy feel unattractive, like no one will ever want them again without their clothes on — I know I did. When I first came out of surgery I refused to look at my stomach for days. When I finally looked down I hated what I saw. I hated the fact that I had something that made me different. The ileostomy bag wasn’t even the worst of it though. I was convinced I would never be able to change the bag myself. I didn’t want to see what was underneath. For weeks on end my mum changed it for me, and every time I got close to taking a peak I broke down, apologizing frantically to my mum for being such a burden. Of course, she said it was fine but it wasn’t fine in my eyes.

I knew that the only way I’d be able to return home to my own flat was if I changed it myself, and so I plucked up the courage to do so, determined to gain back my independence. From then on I have been able to look at my stoma, and it has gotten easier and easier as each day has passed on. But in my head, that still didn’t mean it would be easy for my partner. Even though I was starting to feel better about myself, there was still the worry of...

How will he feel about my body? 

Will he still want me? 

Will he still find me attractive? 

I guess that’s how a lot of people feel, and why sex can matter more when you have a stoma. Not because it’s routine and not because it is a major factor in a relationship but because it is one way of helping you feel better about yourself, and moving on from what has happened; it is one thing to tell you, you are still wanted. I’m not talking about one night stands and I’m not talking about a porn style session. I’m talking about the feeling of acceptance. From one person to another. Sex is something that brings two people together in a way like no other. And to have sex after surgery for a stoma is a big thing both mentally and emotionally. It takes a lot of confidence to strip down to your most vulnerable state, especially when you’re not completely sure of yourself. It also strikes the fear that you may not be as physically attractive to your partner. It forces you through a barrier of fear yet creates a window of hope that you’re sexually attractive. Which of course, you ARE. But for some people, it takes time to realise that. It can take another person to push you into realising that.

Sex matters more because once you’ve had surgery, you can reach this level of unhappiness with your body that you may not be able to fix by yourself. You have this need to feel wanted, to be told you’re still beautiful. The feeling of loneliness in a relationship is worse than actually being on your own. And knowing you’re still wanted in an intimately physical way can help guide you back to a feeling of happiness. To be wanted is a beautiful thing, especially when you don’t feel you are in your natural skin.

Everyone deals with things in different ways and your partner may have a hard time dealing too. But remember that if they love you, it is almost certainly not anything to do with the fact you have a stoma. When in a relationship, everything you feel reflects onto your partner, it’s almost as if they are able to absorb your emotions. It may affect them in a way you don’t realise, or won’t acknowledge. Think about how you feel when seeing someone cry, or hurt, or become so distressed that you just don’t know what to do. Now imagine your partner watching you fall apart, having watched you being so ill and helpless for such a long time. And now having to watch helplessly as you deal with something that they may have never experienced themselves, trying to help you come to terms with something they may not understand

Ostomy surgery can affect a relationship in so many ways. It can cause tension. It can cause depression. It can cause so much anger that doesn’t actually stem from your relationship, just the trauma you’ve been through. Sex can help you move on from this because it increases stability and normality. It is the one thing that can fill the need for intimacy which may increase to fight against the negativity you may be feeling within yourself. It is one thing that can’t be taken away from you unless you let it. And if it has been, then talk about it. Because it matters. It matters more than ever. It matters because all you want when you feel so alone in your situation is love, attention, someone to scream at you that you are still fucking beautiful.

Sex is a great thing to share with someone you love. And if you feel alone in your relationship, or are scared of their reaction or how they feel towards you now, don’t be. If they love you the way they say they do, something as small as a stoma won’t affect that. If anything, they should feel more grateful that you’re still here, that they’re still able to show you that level of intimacy. What you’ve been through has put you in a better position physically, so please don’t let it make you feel any differently mentally or emotionally. You’re still you, you’re still beautiful. Just with a bigger story to tell.

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