Why do people experience phantom rectum?


Hannah Witton with the
ostomy pouching system bag attached to her tummy due to colon removal surgery

There’s nothing about sex and relationships that author and YouTuber Hannah Witton will shy away from talking about – including little-discussed topics such as disability and sex. She’s frank, informed, funny and focused on breaking down taboos.

Then there’s the Little Mix video. Recently, the 26-year-old – who earlier this year underwent emergency surgery to have her colon removed and a stoma created – featured in the band’s music video for the song Strip.

The stoma – an opening in the tummy – means Hannah lives with an ileostomy bag she calls Mona. She has blogged about her journey to “love her new body”, including publishing a mini-documentary about an underwear photo-shoot in which her stoma and her scars are on display.

Here, and for the Ouch podcast, she “shoots the breeze about pooing into a bag” with two more experienced stoma users – BBC presenter Sam Cleasby, who runs the So Bad Ass website, and Blake Beckford who is “most well known for having a stoma and a sixpack”.

Thousands of people in the UK are living with a stoma bag, having undergone surgery for a number of conditions, including bowel cancer, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Here’s everything you didn’t know you wanted to know about living with an ileostomy bag – warning, topics include phantom rectums, Barbie butts and sex.

What on earth’s an ileostomy bag?

An ileostomy is an operation involving the small intestine being diverted through an opening – or stoma – in the abdomen. A bag is then placed over the stoma to collect liquid and waste, which is emptied into the toilet.

According to Hannah, the stoma looks “red, squishy and moist. It has no nerve endings, you can’t really feel it if you touch it, and poo comes out of it.”

All three had theirs fitted due to ulcerative colitis – where the colon and rectum become inflamed and ulcers develop on the colon’s lining.

“I often forget that I have one until I go to the toilet,” says Hannah. “The only time I feel it, is if there is any kind of gas. Then the bags get a little bit crunchy, or if my output is kind of liquidy, then it gets a bit sloshy.”

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