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Written by

Kate Dyson


Kate is a content specialist who is passionate about women's health. She's also mum to three kids, two dogs and unsurprisingly, a lover of wine.

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Urinary incontinence is the unintentional passing of urine. It's a common problem thought to affect millions of people. There are several types of urinary incontinence, including: stress incontinence – when urine leaks out at times when your bladder is under pressure; for example, when you cough or laugh.

Bladder weakness

Stress incontinence is usually the result of the weakening of or damage to the muscles used to prevent urination, such as the pelvic floor muscles and the urethral sphincter. Urge incontinence is usually the result of overactivity of the detrusor muscles, which control the bladder.

How does incontinence impact on sex and intimacy?

Sex and intimacy are an important aspect of our everyday lives but what role does incontinence and bladder weakness play on self expression and confidence in the bedroom?

How common is incontinence and how does it impact women in the UK?

Incontinence is incredibly common and impacts on 1/3 women in the UK. However it’s still considered a taboo topic that is rarely talked openly about.

Why is incontinence still considered a taboo topic that is rarely talked about openly?

Many people who suffer from incontinence and leaks feel ashamed or embarrassed, and may even avoid intimate situations altogether. It’s important to understand that incontinence doesn't have to be a barrier to sex and intimacy.

What impact does incontinence have on being intimate with a partner?

We conducted a survey of over 200 women, and it revealed some troubling results - women reporting back that bladder leaks were ‘embarrassing,’ and that they impacted on their level of confidence in the bedroom.

How does it affect body image and self-confidence?

It was clear from the feedback that it also impacted on their desire in terms of being intimate with their partner. It was also obvious that incontinence impacted on their ability to be spontaneous when it came to sex too.

‘I feel scared and nervous.’

‘I think my partner might think I’m gross.’ 

‘We haven’t made love for some time as I wear a pad all the time and feel self conscious about it and puts me off.’

‘I have to pop to the toilet half way through so I can pee.’ 

In this article, we'll take a closer look at how incontinence can impact on intimacy, and what you can do to maintain a fulfilling sex life. 

Here is a quick reminder of the different types of incontinence we may experience:

Incontinence is the inability to control the bladder, resulting in unwanted leakage. There are many different types of incontinence, including stress incontinence (which occurs when pressure is put on the bladder, such as when laughing, coughing, or sneezing), urge incontinence (which occurs when there is a sudden, intense urge to urinate), and overflow incontinence (which occurs when the bladder doesn't empty completely).

And what are the ways incontinence impacts on sex and intimacy?

Incontinence can have a significant impact on sex and intimacy in a number of ways. First up there is the emotional side of living with incontinence and leaks. Many people who suffer from incontinence may feel embarrassed or ashamed about their condition, and may avoid intimate situations altogether. This can lead to feelings of isolation and depression, as well as a loss of intimacy with their partner. Without sex and intimacy life can also feel quite empty - it's an important source of pleasure and stress relief.

In our survey of over 200 women it was clear that women felt shame around their bodies and this in itself is a significant barrier to being able to relax and feel good about our bodies. This can be further amplified with age and feelings of ambivalence around our bodies as they change (these changes are all normal but society as a whole often doesn't depict ageing as something natural and acceptable).

In addition, the physical symptoms of leaks and incontinence can impact on sex and intimacy. For example, leaks during sex can be a source of discomfort or embarrassment for both partners.

Sex requires us to be relaxed and to feel at ease and if we’re worried about leaks then this can be a real barrier to being preset and enjoying intimacy with a partner. 

We spoke to Tracey (not her real name) about her experience of incontinence and how it impacted on her sex life with her husband.

‘I already felt insecure about my body as I had started to put on weight around my middle during menopause. Then I found I was getting up in the night several times to pee and sometimes my pants felt wet. My husband would try and have sex sometimes, but I was embarrassed about the smell and that he might notice the wet patch. So I kept putting sex off - I think he thought it was something he’d done wrong!'

What are some tips for managing symptoms re-building more intimate occasions with my partner?

The good news is that incontinence doesn't have to be a barrier to intimacy. Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Talk to your partner: it's important to be open and honest with your partner and to work together to find solutions that work for both of you. This can reduce feelings of shame and help strengthen your relationship.

  2. Manage your symptoms: There are many different treatments available including pelvic floor exercises, supplements, lifestyle changes and medication.

  3. Use protective products: There are a range of protective products available, such as pads or underwear, which can help manage leakage during sex.

  4. Experiment with different positions: Some positions may feel more comfortable than others. Experiment with the positions that work best for you and don't put additional pressure on your bladder. Also make sure that you empty your bladder fully before you have sex- this should help too.

  5. Take care of your mental health: as our survey illustrated the body and brain are connected. So if you feel good mentally then you are likely to feel better physically too. It can be easy to get caught in a catch 22 situation where you feel stressed about your incontinence, then avoid sex, then feel stressed that you're not having sex and the cycle continues. Speak to your GP if your bladder weakness is getting in the way of sex to see if there are any underlying health issues.

We spoke to Tracey about what worked for her and she said: ‘ I think inthe thing that really helped was talking with my husband about it. I brought it up when we were both driving home in the car from a friend’s house. I felt too embarrassed to talk about it to him face to face. He reassured me and said he loved me whatever and that we could work it out together. I have seen my GP and have been referred to see a pelvic floor physio. Taking this first step is a massive thing and means I already feel closer to my husband.'

By taking steps to manage your symptoms and being open and honest with your partner, you can maintain a fulfilling sex life and strengthen your relationship.

At the end of the day remember you're not alone

Remember, you're not alone – there are many people who suffer from incontinence, and there are many resources available to help you manage your condition. At Jude we want to celebrate women and their sexuality and remind them that incontinence and bladder leaks should never be a barrier to self expression and intimacy. 

Five key takeaways from this read

Why does incontinence impact sex and intimacy?

Sex and intimacy are linked to how confident we feel and one impact incontinence can have is to make us feel less confident physically and mentally

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