Don't Let Diabetes Complicate Your Love Life

Only half of men and 19 percent of women with diabetes have raised the subject with their health care provider, according to a study in the journal Diabetes Care.

The causes of sexual problems vary depending upon gender. For men with diabetes, especially if they are overweight or have type 2, the risk of having low testosterone levels is about twice as high as it is for those without diabetes. Low levels of this hormone can translate into a lack of sexual desire. It's very common for a man with diabetes to struggle with erectile dysfunction, which occurs when the blood vessels in that area of the body doesn't work properly, according to Diabetes Forecast.

For women, nerve damage due to diabetes can translate into vaginal dryness, a condition twice as likely if you have diabetes. Women with diabetes who have nerve and blood vessel damage may have blood-flow issues as well, and when blood doesn't get to the vaginal area, sexual problems ensue. Sometimes, female arousal problems occur even in the absence of a specific physical symptom.

Getting Back in the Groove

Whether you're man or a woman, if your sex life is not exactly the way you wish it were, there may be some steps you can take to get back on track.

For Men:

  • Strive to get your blood sugar into the normal range. "When you don't feel good, you don't feel like having sex," says Leann Olansky, MD, an endocrinologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Keeping your blood sugar in the target range can help prevent more health problems, and you'll simply feel better in general.
  • If you smoke, quit. There can be quite an improvement with erectile dysfunction if you quit smoking.
  • Consider switching antidepressants. Such medications can cause low libido. Ask your physician about switching to one that doesn't interfere with sexual function, Olanksy recommends.
  • Consider prescription medications for the problem. Medications like Cialis or Viagra, both of which improve blood flow to the penis, can be helpful for men. For a man who has low testosterone, testosterone gels, injectable medications, and suppositories may help.

For Women:

  • Work with your endocrinologist to make sure you have the tightest possible control of your diabetes. When your blood sugar is not in control, "It can impact your energy level, your body image, and how you feel," says Jill Rabin, MD, chief of ambulatory care, obstetrics and gynecology, and head of urogynecology at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, NY. "The more you take care of your diabetes, the more energy you will have."
  • Take a look at your relationship. If you have unresolved issues in your relationship, resolving these can help your sex life.
  • Use lubrication. If the problem is discomfort during sex due to vaginal dryness, over the counter lubricants can be very helpful. "Lubrication is not just for sex but for daily comfort," says Rabin. "You may want to use a vaginal moisturizer every day and then a lubricant before having sex." And, she says, you may want to use a probiotic, which can help prevent yeast infections.
  • Look at the bigger picture. "Make a list of five health care and life goals you would like to reach in the next year," she says. "And then do everything possible to reach these goals. The better you feel about yourself, the more you are going to want to take care of yourself." And when you're pleased with how you look and feel, you may just end up having a better sex life, too.

Jill M. Rabin, MD, reviewed this article.




Neithercott, Tracey. "Sex and diabetes: what you wanted to know."  November 2012. Diabetes Forecast.