I knew from an early age that it was a possibility, but nothing could have prepared me for waking up from surgery with an ileostomy*. I spent a total of one month in the hospital, and it took nearly two months before I could independently walk and care for myself again. This was a massive shift for me, as I had never struggled with mobility before the major surgery that left me with this permanent medical device.
Until some form of normalcy in my life resumed, my sex life was the last thing on my mind.
With that being said, as an adult entertainer, returning to work meant returning to sex; there was no way around it. I briefly considered a change in careers, but as someone with no post-secondary education and a six-year resume gap, the prospects didn’t look good. Not only had I become accustomed to the flexibility and financial comfort of webcam streaming and content creation, but it was only after my surgery that I realized that my medical supplies would cost me upwards of $1000 per month (yes, for the rest of my life!).
Only a couple of months before my surgery, I ended a five-year monogamous partnership. In the span of just six months, I had lost both my long-term partner and a major organ. My life felt as though it had been flipped completely upside down. I worried that I would never be able to find someone who would love and appreciate my body as it was.
As a person with a string of long term relationships behind them, I had zero experience with dating and ‘hooking up’. In fact, I found the idea of meeting a new lover daunting. My body had changed dramatically post-surgery; I had become emaciated with a total weight loss of over 25 pounds (over 11kg), and now had the addition of a large permanent medical device attached to my abdomen.
I decided to ‘rip the bandaid off’ by having sex as soon as possible – not because I particularly wanted sex, but because I needed to get it over with. I knew that the longer I waited, the more daunting it would become to show anyone my naked body.
The problem was, as a newly single person, I had no idea how to approach the situation. After brainstorming my next move, I devised a low-stakes environment. I contacted an acquaintance who I was confident wouldn’t turn me down, as they had previously expressed some interest. Since I wasn’t romantically interested in them, it was a low-risk and high-reward situation.
Leading up to this initial sexual encounter, I was petrified of a possible negative response to my body. I had shared photos of my post-surgery body on social media with a favorable response, but that was nothing like standing in front of someone naked and seeing their response in real-time. The sex itself wasn’t particularly memorable (fingers crossed he never reads this!), but the act of sharing my body was cathartic. In a sense, it even felt political; my body was something that society and mainstream media deemed flawed. Despite this, I held my head high and undressed with confidence. Feeling a person’s body respond to me with excitement provided me with the self-assurance I needed to enter the dating world and return full-time to sex work.
Over time, I developed systems that allowed me to feel more comfortable on-screen and with sexual partners. One of the most helpful investments I made as an *ostomate was to purchase lingerie that covered my medical device. It took some time to find high waisted and crotchless underwear that were comfortable enough to keep on during sex, but eventually, I found several brands that allowed for *ahem* easy access.
I can’t say that it is easier now… The journey hasn’t ended, and I’ve come to realize that it never will. During every sexual encounter (both on or off-screen), I find myself overly conscious of the way that my body differs from ‘conventional’. It’s not something that I forget, but instead must choose to accept each time I am intimate.
Ultimately I have learned that there is no destination, no beginning and end; there is only the continual journey of radical self-acceptance. Some days are harder than others, and at times I feel as though I am treading water. When I feel this way, I try to think of how far I have come since my surgery, and I make an effort to remember that progress is not always linear.
To anyone who is struggling with their sexuality amidst a disability or chronic illness, I would say this: It is a journey of ups and downs, and as long as you do your best to be kind to yourself in the process, then you are on the right track.
*ileostomy – An ileostomy is a surgery wherein the ileum (the end of the small intestine) is brought through the opening of the abdominal wall to make a stoma. This helps solid waste and gas bypass the colon and/or rectum by exiting the body directly through the stoma. A medical device is attached to the stoma, and emptied throughout the day and night. An ileostomy differs from a colostomy in that the stoma is made from the ileum rather than the colon. Those with an ileostomy typically have most of all of their colon removed in the surgical process.
*ostomate – A person with either an ileostomy, colostomy, or urostomy.