It’s uncommon to discuss sex and diabetes in the same conversation. First, there are few topics as taboo as the topic of sex. Second, out of the millions of adults worldwide who have either Type 1 (T1) or Type 2 (T2) diabetes, half of those with T2 diabetes admit to experiencing sexual dysfunction. Until recent years, research was sparse on this issue. This meant fewer treatments for those affected by sexual dysfunction.
Fortunately, that’s changing and researchers are spending more time investigating the complications that exist with sex and diabetes. This is necessary because pleasurable sex is an important aspect of a healthy adult life. Today we’ll normalize the topic and discuss how sex is different when you have diabetes.
What is Sexual Dysfunction?
Let’s dive right in. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll define sexual dysfunction as any physical or psychological issue that keeps a man or woman from enjoying sexual activity. The following are symptoms of sexual dysfunction that can be found in men and women with diabetes:
- Low sex drive (men and women)
- Vaginal dryness and painful intercourse (women)
- Inability to orgasm (women)
- Erectile dysfunction (men)
- Premature ejaculation (men)
Sex and Diabetes Complications
Not in the Mood
Being in the mood or desiring sex, signals your body to physically prepare for sex. This causes the vaginal walls to expand and become lubricated (for women) and the penis to become erect (for men). When you lack sexual desire, it becomes difficult for the natural physical arousal to occur. And since desire is normally step one in sexual interaction, a lack of it can entirely prevent a healthy sex life.
The cause of a low sex drive can be multidimensional. It may be the result of continuous high blood sugar, menopause (depending on age), stress, taking certain medications, or depression (which is experienced often in those with diabetes).
Studies also show that many men who have T2 diabetes, especially over a long period of time, also have low testosterone levels. This matters because testosterone plays a role in the sexual desire of both men and women.
Why There’s Pain
Pain during sex is sure to zap the enjoyment from the experience. Painful sex in women with diabetes is common and the causes are varied. Because a woman with diabetes may experience a decreased interest in sex, her body won’t receive the signal to lubricate if she’s simply uninterested in the act. A well lubricated vagina reduces friction during intercourse. What happens when little lubrication exists? A painful sexual experience.
It’s also possible for a woman to become aroused mentally and still lack substantial lubrication physically. Uncontrolled high blood glucose levels are known to damage nerves. The exact reasons behind this are unknown, but when a certain type of nerve damage occurs in a woman, it can limit the blood flow to her vagina. Because an increased blood flow to the vagina normally results in additional lubrication, a decreased blood flow results in vaginal dryness. This also guarantees friction during intercourse.
Lastly, women with diabetes are more likely to experience yeast infections and urinary tract infections than women who don’t have diabetes. These are uncomfortable infections that cause itching, inflammation, burning, and irritation. It’s no surprise that women who battle these infections wish to abstain from intercourse in order to prevent further pain.
Inability to Climax
An orgasm is the result of several mechanisms working at once. One of those mechanisms includes the nervous system. When nerve damage occurs (commonly because of prolonged high blood glucose levels), it’s not uncommon for women to experience numbness during intercourse. This makes it difficult to react to sexual stimulation. Nerve damage may also occur in the autonomic nervous system, which controls the orgasm response. These issues make it unlikely for a woman to orgasm.
Difficulty Beginning and Ending
Erectile dysfunction is one of the most researched complications as it relates to sex and diabetes. Men with this disorder have difficulty getting an erection, maintaining an erection, or both. Erectile dysfunction commonly affects senior men who don’t have diabetes. However, studies show that erectile dysfunction as a result of diabetes tends to affect men at a much younger age. There’s also a correlation between a man having diabetes over a period of years and experiencing erectile dysfunction.
Ending too Soon
Hundreds of thousands of men experience premature ejaculation. In this study that assessed sexual dysfunction in men with diabetes, over half admitted to struggling with this issue. Similar to other forms of sexual dysfunction found in those with diabetes, researchers are still not 100% sure what causes this occurrence. They believe that its cause is related to nerve damage, anxiety, and an inadequate supply of nitric oxide.
Because sex and diabetes can be an embarrassing topic, many people choose not to get the help they need. As research is becoming more abundant, now is a better time than ever to consult your doctor about any sexual complications you’ve been experiencing. Treatments are as varied as there are symptoms. There are now medications, devices, gels, natural remedies, and counseling to address sexual dysfunction. Research also shows that regulating diabetes makes a huge difference in whether or not you will experience sexual complications; so have a healthy lifestyle and take your diabetes medications as prescribed to help you get it under control!