How OAB Affects Sex and Intimacy

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on August 06, 2013
2 min read

Although it can be hard for women to talk about overactive bladder or sex, it may be even harder to talk about OABand sex.

OAB can take its toll in many areas of your life, including your romantic relationships. "Oftentimes, women with OAB worry about urine leakage during sex or orgasm," says Jennifer Berman, MD. She is a urologist and sexual health expert at the Berman Women's Wellness Center in Los Angeles.

OAB or urinary incontinence can cause physical symptoms as well as fear, anxiety, and shame about sex and intimacy. The following expert advice can help, though.

Unfortunately, many women with OAB will avoid sex altogether. "They think it's bad for their bladder and that it will make it worse, so they stay away from that whole area," says Elizabeth Kavaler, a urologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.

That's a myth. "Unless you have a prolapsed bladder, sex is not dangerous and will not cause your bladder to become damaged," she says.

Sex is one thing, but intimacy is another, Kavaler says. "Intimacy should not change with age or OAB."

Pepper Schwartz, PhD, a sociologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, agrees. "There are a lot of things that go on [that] long-term partners don't discuss or don't discuss the severity of," she says. OAB may be one of those things.

"Women may feel embarrassed by leakage during sex or orgasm, and even if their partner knows and says 'It's OK,' it certainly can stop you from allowing oral sex," says Schwartz, the author of several books including Prime: Adventures and Advice on Sex, Love, and the Sensual Years. It doesn't help that "if you feel like you smell from urine, you may feel unsexy," too, says Kavaler.

Hiding something is not good for intimacy, says Schwartz. "It has an impact on your own psyche, and you don't realize that until you do talk about it."

Once you are open with your partner, you can face the situation together. For example, "If there is urine incontinence during sex or orgasm, you may need a towel," she says. Talk about what you both can do to feel comfortable.

She doesn't advise bringing up OAB and sex fears right before you hit the sheets, though.

Berman agrees: "It is best to go about it around a conversation about positive things -- not in the bedroom," she says.

If you're talking to a new partner, consider this conversation a litmus test. "If the guy is horrified and runs, there are other issues, and it's important to know that in advance."