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Navigating Intimacy with Crohn’s Disease & Ulcerative Colitis

Intimate relationships with those who suffer from IBD (Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis) often require additional sensitivity from partners. This article will explore how those in intimate partnerships can support each other psychologically, emotionally, and physically, establishing trust, compassion, and honesty as they navigate their personal lives. 

Living or being in a relationship with someone with IBD can be challenging, but supportive and open-hearted communication can bring couples even closer as they manage their relationship respectfully and with compassion and humor. A commitment to each other through the most challenging times is what separates the immature relationship from the mature one, and IBD will certainly present some of the most challenging opportunities for those in intimate relationships. 

But first, let’s clear up a few misconceptions about sex and IBD…

Can you catch Crohn’s or UC? 

A misconception about IBD and intimacy includes the idea that IBD can be transmitted via sexual contact. You cannot catch IBD from your partners, as inflammatory bowel disorders are non-communicable diseases believed to be caused by a multitude of factors including genetic predisposition, diet, lifestyle, and overuse of antibiotics. They are not transmitted via bodily fluids (or any other exchange). You can share meals and bathrooms and you can enjoy a normal and healthy sex life.   

Will I hurt my partner when we have sex? 

Like all sexual relationships, the dynamics are individual and personal. For some IBD patients, abdominal and general pain in the lower abdomen may be a deterrent to intimacy. Additionally, female sexual and reproductive organs may be affected during flare-ups. The best way to navigate the issue of pain during intercourse is by honest, open conversation before, during, and after sexual relations. It has been suggested that side positions may be more gentle for penetration than other positions. This should be discussed between you and your partner. 

How might a flare affect our sex life? 

During periods of extreme or even mild flairs, your partner may completely lose interest in sex, though they may be receptive to other forms of intimacy and touch such as massage, hugging, spooning, foot rubs, etc. You can ask what form of touch they would find most healing during these challenging times. They may prefer not to be touched at all, in which case there are other ways you can be intimate such as meaningful conversation, laughter, shared light physical activities, watching a movie together, etc.

In a study entitled, A Survey in the Impact of IBD in Sexual Health, women were found more likely to express a lack of interest (sexual dysfunction) due to fatigue, depression, anxiety, or negative body issues, whereas men’s interest in sex was more affected by age. So working with your partner to mitigate fatigue, depression or negative body image may help encourage a more active intimate life.

How should you respond when your partner rejects you because of a flare? 

It’s easy to say, “with compassion”, especially during the earlier stages of a relationship. But it’s also important for both partners to acknowledge and address the feelings of rejection experienced by the partner being turned down. 

It’s vital to keep the channels of communication open, but also pick your timing. It may help to discuss more sensitive issues when you are both feeling well and not in crisis. IBD takes its toll on the nervous system so during flairs it’s probably best to move into a supportive care role, which may mean bringing supplements or protocols, running a bath, preparing food or beverages, and not focusing on the sexual tension between you. Timing is everything.   

Practical tips to navigate your intimate life with a partner who suffers IBD 

Intimacy should remain playful, honest, open, and kind, however it is expressed. If your partner feels safe, emotionally held, and loved, they will feel more confident and less afraid to express themselves sexually, even through challenging times. 

Intimacy can be expressed in many ways, so find different things that work for you both and remain open to suggestions.  

  • Time medications to allow for date nights and intimate time together, and prioritize these meetings.  
  • Go to the restroom before intimacy, and practice good hygiene. 
  • If you have an ostomy, empty the bag before getting intimate so there are no concerns of leakage and you can be in the moment.
  • Support your partner’s positive lifestyle habits, such as meditation, breath work, yoga or body therapies, etc. These calm down the nervous system which is often overactive in those suffering from IBD and IBS. You can join them in a class and encourage their daily practice. 
  • Support your partner’s food restrictions by learning how to cook in a way that incorporates their special diet without limiting your own and try maintain normal family meal routines. Even if one partner is on a restricted or liquid-only diet, meals are about so much more than eating and it’s important to keep the integrity of the family or partnership, especially during difficult times.
  • When your partner is depleted, pick up the slack, especially if the domestic burden often falls on your partner.  

For women, your man will appreciate you keeping a sense of sexual fun and playfulness even when you are not having sex during certain periods of time. Take care not to overinvest in this role of ‘care-taker’ and retain the role of being his intimate partner too, even if only in jest or small expressions. These small gestures go a long way in maintaining intimacy in relationships.




This blog is not intended to provide diagnosis, treatment, or medical advice. The content provided is for informational purposes only. Please consult with a physician or healthcare professional regarding any medical or health related diagnosis or treatment options. The claims made regarding specific products in this blog are not approved to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.


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