These women share how it impacts theirs
Is IBS more socially stigmatized than STIs? Glamour reports yes — that people would rather talk about sexually transmitted infections than Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
It’s a shocking statistic that shed lights onto just how embarrassing of an issue Irritable Bowel Syndrome is viewed. In fact, most of the repercussions of dealing with IBS are psychological rather than physical. Though IBS does make menstruation more difficult, the most common side effect that pairs with the diagnosis is anxiety.
“Going out to eat can be a high-anxiety event because I have to research what foods on the menu I can eat and weigh the potential risks of initiating an IBS flare-up,” Katie F. said. “Using the restroom or having gas is a significant cause of worry at times, particularly during flare-ups. I am very conscientious of my figure due to bloating and gas, especially working in a high school where kids are constantly watching.”
Physical symptoms of IBS include constipation, diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain, and cramps. People affected by IBS – which amounts to 35 million people in the US, mostly women – often find themselves running to the bathroom at unexpected times. Because one can never predict the colon’s actions (as the colon itself is irritated and may either contract and cause constipation or relax abruptly and cause diarrhea), it can lead to increased levels of anxiety regarding accidents.
“Bar crawls are the worst,” Katie F. continued. “Bars in general are hard because people usually drink beer and there are not always gluten-free beer options. The social stress caused by having to either drink water or higher-alcohol content drinks (i.e., wine or mixed drinks) can sometimes outweigh the benefits and fun of meeting up with friends at bars.”
“At the very least, it limits my choices of bars,” Katie F. added. “All of my friends are great and accommodate my IBS, but meeting new people or dating can be challenging within the bar scene.”
Kids ages 10-18 are largely affected by IBS with approximately 8% of middle school students and 17% of female high schoolers reporting irritable colon complications. Since middle school and high school are the prime times that young females begin menstruating for the first time, an IBS diagnosis that coincides with puberty can be exceedingly frustrating.
“IBS has affected my life dramatically, especially when I was younger,” Christy I., who has suffered with her diagnosis for six years, said. “I was homeschooled my junior year of high school because my anxiety about leaving class and running to the bathroom was so intense.”
Yes, IBS affects a person’s sex life. But it’s true that most of the effects are purely psychological. Just think about it logically—if you have IBS, you’re suffering from symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, and bloating. Plus, you’re aware of the unpredictability of your colon’s contractions and you’re used to running to the bathroom with little notice. Why would that make anyone feel comfortable when getting intimate?
“There are times when I have canceled or even refused sex because of an IBS flare-up. It can be very challenging to feel confident and sexy when [that’s happening],” Katie F. said.
IBS often causes anxiety in the people it touches. In sexual situations, people afflicted with IBS often find themselves freaking out that they might have an accident during sex and could even go as far as to avoid intimacy.
“It affects my anxiety levels when I’m in a new situation and I don’t have access to a bathroom,” Christy I. added. “Once, when I was on vacation in Las Vegas, I opted out of a really cool opportunity to film a television show because I was so overwrought with worry about not being able to leave to go to the bathroom if I had to. I ended up walking off set.”
But while the effects IBS has on a person’s sex life are mostly emotional (though equally frustrating), it’s a woman’s period that really suffers the brunt of Irritable Bowel Syndrome’s physical implications… hence the harsh effects teenagers and pre-teens experience.
“My stomach bothers me more than ever around that time,” Christy I. lamented. “I have to really watch what I’m eating when I’m on my period.”
During the menstrual cycle, it’s common that gastrointestinal pain related to IBS spikes. Especially on the first two days of the cycle, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, abdominal pain and diarrhea are at their worst. Comparatively, bloating and constipation usually accompany the post-ovulation phase, around day 14 of the cycle.
“I have a few instances of missed periods, but I can’t be sure any one of them was caused solely by IBS. They were definitely caused by stress though, which IBS contributes to, so it is fair to say that it was a negative influence,” Katie F. added.
In general, the menstrual cycle and its negative symptoms are amplified for women with IBS. Women with IBS report higher levels of and more frequent pain, such as fatigue, backache, and even insomnia. Hypersensitivity to certain foods, particularly those that cause gas, can also occur during menstruation in a woman with IBS.
Cover image courtesy of Getty Images.