Social Life with an Ostomy
Did you know that socializing is essential for good health? Research has recently revealed that social isolation is profoundly harmful, increasing the risk of depression, dementia, and heart disease. In older adults, “social isolation significantly increased a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity,” the CDC says.
After ostomy surgery, you may be nervous about resuming normal activities and going out with friends. That’s natural and understandable — but it’s important to step outside of your comfort zone and get out there. Use this guide for support.
First, Take Baby Steps
When you’re new to living with an ostomy, you feel most comfortable at home. You have all your ostomy supplies, you have easy access to a bathroom, and you don’t have to worry about questions or judgment from others. That’s all well and good, but it’s essential to become comfortable out in public as well.
Start small, with quick trips to the grocery store, Walmart or Target. Empty your ostomy pouch before you leave. Carry your supplies with you. Then, run your errand for an hour or two and return home.
Keep doing this and extending your time away from home. You’ll get a good sense of how much time you have before you need to empty your pouch. Then, practice emptying your pouch in public restrooms. Seasoned ostomates recommend dropping some toilet paper in the bowl beforehand, to minimize sound and splashing, and using a deodorizing product like Poo-Pourri, an all-natural spray that eliminates bathroom odors.
Read more: How to Empty Your Ostomy Pouch
Get Familiar With Your Post-Ostomy Body
With an ostomy, you may feel as if you’ve lost control of your bodily functions. But that’s not necessarily true! As you get accustomed to living with an ostomy, you’ll learn your body’s natural rhythms and be able to plan activities around them.
You may want to take notes, at least for a while, as you discover foods you tolerate well, and foods that cause gas, diarrhea or constipation. As you add more fiber to your diet, your bowel movements may become more regular. This will help you anticipate when you’ll need to empty your pouch.
If you have an ileostomy, the output — and the need to empty the pouch — will be more frequent. If this is preventing you from resuming social activities, talk to your wound, ostomy, and continence (WOC) nurse about ways to decrease or slow output. Some foods that may help include applesauce, bananas, pasta, creamy peanut butter, rice, tapioca pudding, toast and yogurt.
Then, Say 'Yes' to New Experiences
our good friends invite you to their beach house for the week. You hesitate: They know about your ostomy, but do they really understand? Will you be able to swim in the ocean? Maybe you should just decline…
It’s natural to feel hesitant. But this is the perfect opportunity to practice managing your ostomy outside the home and start having fun again. Talk to your friends about any needs and limitations associated with your ostomy. Maybe you would enjoy relaxing on the beach, but heading out on a boat for an all-day fishing charter is just too much right now. Swimming is perfectly safe with an ostomy. You can buy ostomy swimwear and accessories to ensure your pouching system stays in place.
Then — go! Pack extra ostomy supplies, treat your friends to a nice dinner, and have a great time.
Read more: Traveling With an Ostomy
Dating and Intimacy After an Ostomy
Le’s not dance around it: Dating with an ostomy is stressful. When do you tell a potential partner about your ostomy? How do you find someone who accepts you as you are? And when it’s time to become physically intimate, how do you manage it?
There are no easy answers to these questions. It’s up to you when you want to share any details about your ostomy, whether that’s early in a relationship or not until you’re ready to become intimate. An ostomy may be a dealbreaker for some potential partners — but if they can’t deal with it, that just means they’re not the right person for you.
Having an ostomy does not prevent you from having and enjoying sexual intimacy, although it may present some complications. When you’re ready, talk to your partner about what activities and positions you feel comfortable with. Some people recommend bathing or showering together as a fun, easy way to get started.
Empty your ostomy pouch before intimacy. You may want to wear a mini-pouch or stoma cap, or an ostomy wrap. A wide variety of ostomy lingerie and underwear is available that supports and conceals pouches while making you feel good.
How to Have a Thriving Social Life While Living With an Ostomy (United Ostomy Associations of America)
Living with an Ostomy: Eating, Hygiene, Travel, Relationships & More (UChicago Medicine)
Slowing Down Ileostomy Output (Shield Healthcare)
Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Intimacy and Sexuality When You Have an Ostomy (American Cancer Society)