man with stomach acheA recent study demonstrated that men with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are more likely to have erectile dysfunction (ED) than other men.  This is true whether the cause of ED is physical or psychological.  The finding isn’t a surprise; sex therapy offices are filled with men and women who have IBS and sexual problems.  Men with IBS often also have rapid or premature ejaculation.  Women with IBS have pelvic pain and often find intercourse uncomfortable or even impossible.

What gives?  The researchers pointed out that lifestyle is a contributing factor to IBS, but that depression and anxiety are also found among many with this syndrome.  All three factors can contribute to sexual problems.

You may already know that the gut has serotonin in it, a neurotransmitter found in the brain.  The gut has even been called a second brain, and we speak about “gut feelings.”  Almost everyone can relate to “having butterflies” when something emotionally uncomfortable is happening.  IBS often tells healthcare providers that stress may be a big contributing factor.

In addition, IBS can be very painful.  Pain can cause the pelvic floor muscles to become overly tight, which can also contribute to sexual problems in men and women.

Anyone who suspects they have IBS or a related GI problem should go straight to a medical doctor.  The second stop, however, might be to a psychologist.  And, if there are sexual problems, then that psychologist should have a background in both health psychology and sex therapy.

Sometimes low self-esteem and feelings of sexual inadequacy can contribute to feelings of stress.  A psychologist can help the IBS sufferer not only learn how to relax, but to identify how they feel about their sexuality.  The person with IBS can find out how to have better sexual health and enjoyment, even if they have an illness that needs to be managed.

Don’t let IBS and sexual problems become chronic.  The sooner you seek help, the better off you will be.  Making the decision to see a psychologist is a sign of good mental health.