Sex is a normal, healthy part of any relationship. It not only feels good but also helps you stay connected with your partner.

Ulcerative colitis (UC) symptoms like diarrhea, pain, and fatigue can require you to make some adjustments to your sex life. But they shouldn’t stop you from having and enjoying sex.

Here are nine ways UC can affect your sex life, and what you can do about them.

UC can leave you with surgical scars, an ostomy bag, and worries about incontinence. You might feel reluctant to have sex.

Your doctor most likely won’t ask about your body image or sexual functioning issues, so you may have to start the conversation yourself.

It’s an important talk to have. Your doctor may have advice to help you feel better. They may even know of local support groups that can help you feel less alone.

A frequent and urgent need to have bowel movements is part of life with UC. You might fear that you’ll have to run to the bathroom during sex, or worse, that you’ll have an accident.

These fears are justified, but they shouldn’t stop your sex life entirely. Be open with your partner about the fact that you might need to use the bathroom and that it might be urgent.

Also, use the bathroom right before you have sex to avoid any accidents. Ask your doctor if you can take an antidiarrheal drug. If the problem persists, your gastroenterologist can refer you to a continence specialist for advice.

After surgery to remove your colon, you may need to wear an ostomy bag to collect waste. With a bag, there’s the worry you’ll pass stool during sex or the bag will leak.

Again, this is when a conversation with your partner can clear the air and make you more comfortable with your ostomy bag. Your ostomy nurse can also offer advice on how to handle your bag during sex.

If you’re embarrassed about the bag, use a smaller one in bed, or wear special underwear to conceal it. Emptying the bag just before you have sex will reduce the chances of anything leaking out, too.

Extreme fatigue is a common issue with UC. Pain, diarrhea, and poor nutrition can rob you of the sleep you need and leave you feeling too exhausted for sex.

Talk to your doctor about fatigue. Changing your medication or adding a nutritional supplement may give you more energy.

Try to plan sex for times of the day when you’re most alert. This may be in the morning or afternoon, rather than at night.

You can also consider more energy-efficient ways to get intimate. For example, try sensual touch or kissing.

For some people with UC, vaginal sex is painful. Using a lubricant can help.

Water-based lubricants may be best for use with condoms and silicone sex toys. Oil-based lubes may cause allergic reactions in some people. They may also make latex condoms less effective at protecting against pregnancy.

Scars or fistulas (abnormal connections between the bowel and skin) can also make sex painful, especially anal sex. Ask your doctor about your options. Lubricants, other positions, and even props can sometimes help. In severe cases, surgery can fix a fistula.

Abdominal pain is another issue with UC. It may make certain positions — like missionary — too uncomfortable.

Experiment with different positions to see which ones feel best. Ask your doctor if you can take a pain reliever before sex, and if so, which one is safe with UC.

During sex, your brain releases feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters that ease depression and relieve stress. But UC or the medications you take to treat it can inhibit your sex drive.

You can take an antidepressant, but some of these medications may affect sex drive, too. Talk to a mental health professional or qualified sex therapist about other ways to manage your mental health and get in the mood again.

Some people with UC have trouble getting or maintaining an erection. Erectile dysfunction (ED) can be due to the condition itself, or the medications or surgery used to treat it.

See a urologist for advice on how to treat erection problems. There are several options, including:

  • ED medication like Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra
  • penis pump devices
  • erection rings
  • penile implants
  • penile injections

Steroid drugs to manage flares can lower your sex drive and reduce your enjoyment of sex.

If steroids or any other medication you take to manage UC affects your sex life, ask your doctor about it. A change in the dose or type of drug may help you regain your desire.

Even if you’re honest with your partner about the effects of UC on your sex life, they’re not guaranteed to understand all the time.

Consider seeing a counselor or sex therapist to learn how to communicate more effectively and cope with any sexual issues that arise.

Fatigue, pain, and embarrassment from UC can all affect your romantic relationships, but you don’t have to settle for a life without intimacy.

Talk to your partner and your doctor about ways to overcome any issues that are getting in the way of your sex life.