One in five women have refused to have sex due to IBS symptoms, study finds

According to a new study by Healthista, one in five women have refused to have sex with their partners even though they’ve wanted to, due to IBS.

The research commissioned by Alflorex the probiotic, which polled 1,600 UK women aged 25-65 found that bloating, in particular, had stopped women from wanting to reveal their bodies to a new partner.

A further 20% of women said IBS has stopped them from getting intimate at all due to the bloating, flatulence, tummy cramps and constipation caused by the condition.

Dr Simon Smale, consultant gastroenterologist and trustee of the IBS Network, says that many of the women he sees are seriously affected by their symptoms.

He said: ‘Many women I speak to feel that they can’t hide their bloating or flatulence and many I see are deeply distressed by their symptoms.

‘As a result, women are often worried about the effect on of their gut symptoms on their relationships but I speak to their partners and they’re much less worried about any of that.

‘Often, the men are more like, “Well, everybody farts. I fart, it’s certainly not a deal-breaker for me”.

‘We all strive for a sort of intimacy in our relationships and that is difficult for women when they’re worried about passing wind or that they might lose control of their bowels.’

‘I see so much of that in my clinic and it’s terribly distressing for my patients, it thwarts intimacy because they can’t let go and enjoy it, they’re so worried they might pass wind or worse at an inopportune moment.’

Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome:

The main symptoms of IBS are:

  • stomach pain or cramps – usually worse after eating and better after doing a poo
  • bloating – your tummy may feel uncomfortably full and swollen
  • diarrhoea – you may have watery poo and sometimes need to poo suddenly
  • constipation – you may strain when pooing and feel like you can’t empty your bowels fully

IBS can also cause:

  • farting (flatulence)
  • passing mucus from your bottom
  • tiredness and a lack of energy
  • feeling sick (nausea)
  • backache
  • problems peeing – like needing to pee often, sudden urges to pee, and feeling like you can’t fully empty your bladder
  • not always being able to control when you poo (incontinence)


According to the study, the most embarrassing part of the condition for women is farting, affecting 35% of the women studied.

This was followed by bloating, which causes shame for over 17% of women.

Almost 30% of women have held in flatulence for so long that it resulted in pain.

Dr Smale continued: ‘The embarrassment about flatulence is cultural.

‘We know a third of people with IBS are men, but when they have been questioned in the past, flatulence is much less of an issue.

‘Men think it’s funny whereas women find it distressing; they think everyone can smell it. That’s much more about society’s expectations than anything biological.’

‘Wind usually results from the fermentation of sugars in the large bowel that then produce gas, which is perfectly normal.’

Though IBS is uncomfortable and can cause a significant amount of pain for the sufferer, it is important to know that it is incredibly common.

According to BUPA, two in 10 people in the UK have the condition, and get episodes six times a year or more.

You can develop IBS at any age, though it’s most common to get symptoms between the ages of 20 and 30 – and it affects more women than men.

If you think you may be suffering, it is important to see your GP so that they can discuss options with you, from medication to diet and lifestyle.

It can also help to be honest with your partner, especially if your symptoms are prohibiting you from getting intimate.

You don’t need to feel ashamed, and you certainly don’t need to make yourself feel worse by avoiding the toilet and flatulence out of shame – your health is more important.

There is nothing embarrassing about farting and pooing – we all do it.

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