Sex & Dating with Incontinence: 10 Things I Wish I Knew Beforehand
Incontinence can make dating difficult and intimacy scary—especially if you've been out of practice for some time. Like any other physical condition, it can be hard to admit that you struggle with incontinence, and it can feel impossible to talk about it with your potential partner. But there are ways to date with incontinence and maintain an active sex life despite the issue. We interviewed Dr. Pepper Schwartz, acclaimed author, researcher, and television personality who has devoted her life to furthering the fields of intimacy and sexuality. Here, she gives us advice on how to build confidence when getting back into the dating game, putting yourself out there, and when to talk about incontinence in a new relationship. Read on for 10 tips about intimacy and dating with incontinence.
1) Build Your Confidence
If you deal with incontinence, you may feel embarrassed or ashamed of your condition. This can affect how you live your life and how vulnerable you are with others—which can also impact your love life. Take some time to build your confidence and educate yourself on incontinence so that you can be more open about it, both with yourself and with others.
If you’re starting to date again, and it’s the first time you’ve dated since dealing with incontinence, Dr. Schwartz recommends starting in a low-stakes environment and bringing a trusted friend. “Start out with a wingperson,” she says. Ask a close, trusted friend to join you at parties or mixers—someone who you can express fears to and who can encourage you along the way. “There's comfort in just one other person,” says Dr. Schwartz. She also recommends starting to date at places that aren’t “formal hunting grounds” so it’s not as daunting. “Almost everyone feels awkward in a room full of people they don't know. Give yourself credit that this isn't the easiest thing in the world,” she adds.
People deal with all kinds of health issues—from eczema and incontinence to diabetes and cancer. When approaching social and romantic encounters, it's helpful to remember that you're not the only one who brings something “difficult” to the table. Dr. Schwartz says that most people over the age of 65 are managing some sort of health issue. But in the end, most people are simply “looking for someone confident, positive, joyful, warm, up for adventure,” she says. “If they’re willing to be in a dating situation, they crave companionship. If they're out there, they’re going against their own insecurities as well.”
2) Find a Community
You might find it helpful to meet other people who are going through similar struggles. There’s no rule book on relationships, but having support is invaluable! Join forums like The Incontinence Support Community to talk about your experience with bladder leakage, or find friends going through the same things as you. Remember—dating with a chronic condition isn’t really any different than other forms of dating. It requires thoughtfulness and honesty, but that’s something all healthy relationships need! By connecting with others who deal with incontinence or other chronic conditions, not only will you feel more confident managing your condition when dating, but you’ll also help create an awesome community out of those who care enough to share their experiences!
3) How to Tell Your Partner
Telling your partner that you deal with incontinence is all about timing. Dr. Schwartz recommends waiting until you’re both invested in your connection, rather than leading with your condition on a first or second date. She says one of the big mistakes that people make in dating is leading with physical issues. “They’re so afraid of being rejected that they want to lead with that,” says Dr. Schwartz. “You don’t owe anyone you're dating your medical history or medical condition until you find out if the relationship has legs or not. People are people—they’re not going to want to take on anything extra unless there’s a reason, like if they like you.”
But once people start to develop feelings and feel like the other person is worth knowing and having in their life, people are more willing to invest and deal with additional challenges. “Let this person know you a little bit,” says Dr. Schwartz. “When you feel that there’s a reason you might want to step this up into something more profound or more intimate, then I think that’s the time to say, ‘Look, I have this issue I deal with, and I want you to know about it because I don't want you to feel shocked or not know how to handle it if we go further with this.’”
The very best way to tell your partner about your incontinence is face-to-face. If you are dating someone and you’re experiencing urinary issues, pick a quiet moment when you both can focus. Acknowledge that something is on your mind and that you need to talk about it in order for your relationship to move forward. Explain what it is (in as much detail as feels comfortable) and why it is important that they know. Let them know that you’re comfortable answering any questions they might have, even if it feels embarrassing at that moment—but don’t get caught up in an inquisition before you’re able to share everything that’s on your mind.
However, leading up to a conversation like this, you should do some self-reflecting. Incontinence may feel like a huge issue to you—and the way you communicate about it may then make your partner feel like it’s a big, scary issue. “If you drag something like this out like it's a terrible problem, they're going to take on your point of view,” says Dr. Schwartz. So, she recommends asking yourself, “How do you make this big issue into a smaller issue?” Think through practical ways that you can “lower the stakes” during intimacy, to show yourself and your partner that it’s doable.
“If you can tell them and reassure them and feel confident about how you can manage, then you’ll see what they’re made of,” says Dr. Schwartz. “Everyone who has something that’s not 100% easy knows it's a test of character. You don't want to invest too much emotional effort into someone who doesn’t want to deal with something that’s part of you.”
4) Talk About Sex Beforehand
In order to be healthy in a long-term relationship, you need to discuss your sex life. Many incontinent people avoid talking about it because there are extra complications to deal with; however, having an open and honest conversation with your partner can help alleviate many misconceptions regarding how incontinence affects sex. Don’t feel as though you have to hide anything from your partner; after all, it's something that you both have to deal with together. If you are lucky enough to have a great understanding and support system within your intimate relationship, then there is no reason why having incontinence should prevent you from being sexually active. If incontinence is causing additional problems for either one of you emotionally or mentally, then talk about them as well.
5) Put the Right Equipment in Place
When the time comes, the absolute first thing you need to do is purchase some good bed protectors that will help to absorb any leaks—like Because disposable bed protectors, which make cleaning up easy. If you prefer a reusable option, try our washable bed protector which goes right in the wash. Once you have one of these options in place, you can focus on intimacy with one less worry.
6) Use Personal Hygiene Products to Stay Fresh
Just because you have incontinence doesn’t mean you can’t feel fresh and clean. In fact, bladder protection underwear from Because Market includes odor-controlling technology that keeps your body smelling fresh all day long! For a convenient way to freshen up throughout the day—especially before moments of intimacy—you can also include Because Market Flushable Cleansing Wipes and Because No-Rinse Cleansing Spray into your routine. Both of these products can be used between changes to keep any unwanted odors away while also keeping you clean and dry.
7) Communicate During Intimacy
Make sure you are comfortable enough to communicate what you want during intimacy. Communicating is important so that both partners can be satisfied with their experience, and it also builds trust between two people. While it may take practice to get comfortable asking for what you need, open communication is a critical aspect of a healthy relationship and intimacy.
When dealing with incontinence, extra communication is often needed to explain what’s happening with your body or what you need. This can feel extremely vulnerable. But when you’ve built trust with a partner and they’ve demonstrated that they’re willing to walk with you through this struggle, you’ve found a safe space to communicate your needs and struggles.
8) Practice Patience
It’s hard to be patient when you have a chronic condition—whether you’re waiting to see improvement in your condition or waiting to find a partner who is willing to walk this journey with you. This can feel especially difficult if you shared your incontinence struggle with a romantic partner, they didn’t respond well, you broke up, and now you’re starting all over again.
Dr. Schwartz notes that rejection is inevitable—and if a person responds poorly to the fact that you deal with incontinence, they’re simply not your person. “As Shakespeare says, ‘There are slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’ Basically, not everybody is going to be able to handle your condition,” says Dr. Schwartz. “You just have to say, ‘That's not my person and that person isn’t as compassionate or brave as I need.’” But getting to this point in a relationship once means you can do it again.
9) Stay Positive
Dating with incontinence can be frustrating and embarrassing. You may even question your attractiveness. But don’t let it stop you! When dating—whether you struggle with incontinence or not—Dr. Schwartz says it’s important to keep your eye on the prize and reminding yourself that you are brave and capable of handling any situation you encounter. “One exercise I recommend is to write down a list of all the great things about yourself,” says Dr. Schwartz. “Have that list somewhere handy and remind yourself that you are more than this challenge. There's going to be somebody who gets it. You just have to know that and feel secure in your worth.”
When dating, Dr. Schwartz recommends practicing warmth and positivity. “It's the first two things that everybody needs,” she says. “A majority of people over 65 are worried about their acceptability. You have to make the other person feel acceptable.” And when you extend that kindness and positivity, chances are they’ll offer it back to you. “Don’t talk about every trouble you have,” she adds. Instead, “talk about what you enjoy and your love of life.”
10) Get Tested for STIs
Being sexually active increases your chances of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). And If you have incontinence, you’re at an increased risk of STIs. So, knowing your status is critical. If you do test positive for an STI, be sure to let all sexual partners know so they can also get tested and treated. Treatments for most STIs are available over the counter or with a prescription; even more preventative measures are recommended in cases of recurring infections.