How can people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) thrive sexually?

How can people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) thrive sexually?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that affects the large intestine and digestion. Symptoms vary from person to person, but they can include pain, abdominal cramping, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. IBS can be unpredictable. You may not know when symptoms will start.

Experts aren’t sure what causes IBS. Some believe it is linked to problems with the way muscles contract in the large intestine. It might also be caused by a disconnect between the brain and intestinal muscles or changes in the microbes that live in the intestines. Some people develop IBS after having an infection or an especially stressful childhood.

Taken together, IBS symptoms can make sex and relationships challenging. You might also feel anxious and depressed – two emotions that can affect sex drive. Men with IBS may struggle with erections as well. Research published in 2015 showed that men with IBS were at higher risk for erectile dysfunction (ED) than men without IBS.

But there is good news. People with IBS can still have satisfying sex lives.

The first step is managing your IBS as well as you can.

  • See your doctor regularly and follow your treatment plan exactly as prescribed.
  • Pay attention to your diet. For many people, IBS symptoms worsen when they have certain foods or drinks, like citrus fruits, milk, or soft drinks. Keep track of what you eat and how it makes you feel. If a certain product triggers symptoms, eliminate it from your diet.
  • Keep stress under control. Stress is a common trigger of symptoms, so do what you can to minimize it. You might try relaxation exercises, mindfulness, or meditation. If daily responsibilities feel overwhelming, don’t hesitate to ask for help from friends, family, or colleagues.

Being open with your partner about IBS can be helpful as well.

  • If you’re in a new relationship, you may wonder about the best time to tell your partner about your IBS. You don’t necessarily have to say anything at first. But as you and your partner get to know each other and share more personal details about your lives, you can bring up the subject. Chances are, your partner will be supportive.
  • Let your partner know how you’re feeling, emotionally and physically. For example, if you’re feeling embarrassed about your symptoms or anxious that sex (or any activity) will trigger them, it’s okay to tell your partner. They will likely reassure you. And if you’re in the midst of an IBS flare-up, you just might not feel up to having sex. Explain that to your partner, too.

If you think IBS is affecting your sex life, talk to your doctor about other treatments. You might also consider joining a support group for people coping with IBS. Addressing stress, depression, anxiety, and relationship issues through counseling is another option.


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