Having problems in the bedroom? Too embarrassed to talk about it? You are definitely not the only one. Even without diabetes, it is normal to experience some issues in your sex life as you get older, busier and more stressed, but people with diabetes are more likely to experience them. Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can lead to sexual complications, and approximately 50% of men and 25% of women experience some kind of sexual problems as a result of diabetes. In a study published in 2010 in the journal Diabetes Care they found that only half of the men and roughly a fifth of the women approach their doctor about the subject. And it seems that doctors are not too keen on prying their patients on the subject either. But it is very important to be open on any health concerns you may have, sexual dysfunction included, because it might be a red flag for other health issues.
Erectile dysfunction can be a sign of diabetes, for example. For people that already have diabetes, sexual dysfunction can be a clear sign of nerve damage, heart disease or hormonal problems. More is known about causes and treatment of men’s sexual problems in diabetes (for obvious external reasons), but a lot of research is being conducted on the causes for women’s sexual dysfunction in diabetes, which may shed light on better treatment. What researchers are absolutely sure of though is that controlling blood sugar is the first step in treatment.
How can diabetes affect my sex life?
- Lower libido- Men and women may experience lower libido as a result of poorly controlled sugar levels. So managing your diabetes and sugar levels may very well be the answer. If not- speak to your doctor as certain medications may affect sexual desire (such as anti-depressants). Low testosterone may also be the culprit. Studies show that men with diabetes have approximately twice the risk of low testosterone.
In women it is slightly more complicated as it is difficult to determine the reasons for low libido- whether diabetes is to blame, emotional issues, hormonal issues, or others.
- Arousal Issues- Both men and women with diabetes may experience no problem with their libido, but they do experience arousal issues. In men- that means erectile dysfunction. In women- vaginal dryness. Poorly controlled sugar levels are very likely the culprit here as well, because poor diabetes control for extended periods of time can lead to neuropathy (nerve damage) and damage to the vascular system (blood vessels) among other complications, inhibiting arousal both in men and in women. But medication may also play a part here as well, so consult your doctor.
As before, more is known about male arousal issues, but luckily there is treatment for both sexes, though there are fewer options for women.
- Ability to reach an orgasm- Again, both men and women can experience problems reaching an orgasm. Research published in the Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology stated that insulin-dependent middle aged women are 80% more likely to experience these problems than women without diabetes. In Diabetes Care researchers found that 21% of men with diabetes have problems reaching an orgasm as well.
Neuropathy due to poorly controlled blood sugar is the culprit yet again. If the nerve endings are not functioning properly, you will experience problems with sensations, which can cause the inability to reach an orgasm. Hormonal instability may also be the one to blame in women. But research is only beginning in this field.
- Pain- pain is definitely not what you want to be feeling during sex, and it is a strong indication that something isn’t right. Men with diabetes are more likely to develop Peyronie’s disease, a condition in which scar tissue inside the penis causes a curved and painful erection. Women with diabetes can feel pain due to vaginal dryness. Discuss possible treatments with your doctor in both cases.
Having a healthy sexual relationship with your partner is important. Sexual dysfunction can cause great emotional tension in every aspect of a relationship, not only in the bedroom. And many times this can cause a downward spiral that only gets worse and worse. So it is very important to speak to your doctor about your problems, more often than not they can be treated with a few adjustments. You can seek out a specialist in sexual medicine as well, and a mental health professional, just in case stress, depression or self-esteem are the cause.
But even before speaking to a professional, the following tips are bound to help:
- Balance your blood sugar (if you didn’t already guess). It is bound to help.
- Be patient and speak to your partner regarding your problems. This is very important in a healthy relationship.
- Stop smoking. Smoking makes controlling your sugar much harder (and read our blog post on the subject).
- Try to be active and do exercise. It can help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure and control you blood sugar.
- Check your cholesterol and triglycerides and make sure they are in range.
- Review your medications and make a list for when you see your doctor.
Remember, sexual problems are very common in people with diabetes and those without as well. It is nothing to be ashamed of, but important to treat! There are many solutions out there; you just have to speak up to your health care team.
-Written by Liran Julia Grunhaus