Amanda Turkiewicz

Sexuality & Intimacy

Delayed puberty, altered body image, and worries of early death, along with inadequate knowledge about their reproductive potential, can sometimes lead to anxiety and frustration in adolescents and young adults with CF. Both males and females with CF experience a delay in puberty for about two to four years due to a delay in sexual hormones reaching their peak levels. When these hormones eventually reach normal peak levels, they too will have the growth spurt and take on the physical appearance of a normal adult. It is important to realize that the situation is only temporary. Unfortunately, most CF adolescents will have to deal with a period of time when they are physically smaller than their peers. Poor body image is often influenced by physical features such as: small stature, thinness, finger clubbing, and stained teeth. However, good nutrition and exercise may prove to benefit body image. For those individuals with more advanced lung diseases, they may develop a barrel chest or a slight hump on their back just enough to make them feel more unattractive. Some medical apparatuses placed inside the body such as gastrostomy tube/button or porta-cath (permanent IV access device) to maintain health can further affect one's self image. The most common struggle continues to be the issue regarding when and how to tell someone whom they are interested in about their CF and the possibilities of reduced fertility. Based on many people's experience, the best way to tell a prospective partner is to have an open and honest discussion about their CF diagnosis, explaining the kind of medical regimen that they must perform regularly to stay healthy. 

     Health related problems such as urinary incontinence due to constant strong cough, yeast infection resulting from frequent antibiotics, and frequent flatus (gas), caused by indigestion, can lead to embarrassment at the most inappropriate times. However, many of these symptoms can be controlled. Exercise to strengthen muscles in the pelvis and avoidance of caffeine may help lesson the degree of incontinence.  Anti-fungal medication can be used to treat yeast infections. Proper use of pancreatic enzymes may improve digestion and absorption, which will decrease the amount of gas. Taking one to two tablespoons of mineral oil once a week to clear the bowels may also help relieve bloating.

     People with CF have normal sexual function.  Mild hemoptysis (coughing up blood) has been reported during sexual intercourse but it is usually associated with chest infection. Taking prescribed antibiotic(s) to treat the infection and inhalation therapy containing bronchodilators (medications that relax and open airways) prior to having sex may prevent it from occurring. Some people with CF take supplemental vitamin K to help strengthen the blood clotting mechanism. Once end stage lung disease develops, supplemental oxygen may be used. Also, avoiding sexual positions that cause restriction to chest expansion may be helpful. Remember, within the context of a meaningful relationship, an expression of love in any way or form can be a satisfying experience for both partners.

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