Newly diagnosed diabetes patients may have many questions at first, but, “How will this chronic illness affect my sex life?” is probably not one of them. However, diabetes and the medications used to treat it can cause sexual challenges for men and women, but with some education and a little extra planning, there’s no reason for diabetes to be a downer in the bedroom.
It’s important to be aware of these possible sexual changes, and to discuss any sexual malfunctions with your doctor no matter how embarrassing you may find the topic.
Women’s sexual health
Most commonly, women who have diabetes will experience a lower sex drive compared to women without the condition.
This can be for several reasons:
- Blood glucose level changes can cause irritability or a lack of energy.
- Depression and anxiety associated with diabetes can lower a desire for sex.
- Anti-depressive medications can lower sex drive.
- Autonomic neuropathy can lead to vaginal dryness and painful sex.
In some cases, nerve damage in diabetic women can make it more difficult for a woman to experience an orgasm. Sex can also be uncomfortable and unpleasant when a woman has a yeast infection or experiences vaginal itching.
These sexual difficulties are not a normal part of aging and can be addressed if you broach the topic with your doctor. They may suggest the following options to maintain a healthy sexual appetite:
- Monitor your blood glucose levels closely before having sex to increase energy and reduce irritability.
- Seek medication for depression or anxiety.
- If anti-depressive medicines are causing your low sex drive, speak to your doctor about trying a different medicine, or discontinuing the medication and seek counselling instead.
- Use water-based lubricant to combat vaginal dryness and practice Kegel exercises to relax vaginal muscles.
- Avoid drugs that may cause painful yeast infections.
Men’s sexual health
Diabetes can also cause sexual complications in men; most notably, erectile dysfunction and retrograde ejaculation. Those with erectile dysfunction cannot get or maintain an erection. In men with retrograde ejaculation, semen empties into the bladder, rather than out of the tip of the penis. In both cases, diabetes-related autonomic neuropathy is likely the cause. This type of nerve damage often occurs when a person maintains poor control over their glucose levels.
In the case of erectile dysfunction, when the autonomic nerves are damaged, they can no longer communicate arousal from the brain to the penis. Similarly, damaged autonomic nerves may stop a sphincter in the bladder from opening, stopping semen to exit the penis. Erectile dysfunction can be embarrassing and makes the act of sex physically impossible. Men with retrograde ejaculation will likely experience infertility.
Additionally, some uncircumcised men who take certain drugs may also notice a high frequency of genital bacterial infections. While neither condition is, painful or causes bodily harm, both can cause problems in the bedroom.
Fortunately, both erectile dysfunction and retrograde ejaculation have solutions. To treat erectile dysfunction, men may consider trying:
- Oral prescriptions, such as Viagra.
- Injections of prostaglandins into the penis.
- Vacuum pumps to draw blood to the penis.
- Surgical implants.
- Counselling to reduce anxiety about sexual performance.
To treat retrograde ejaculation, men may consider trying:
- Meeting with a urologist for a more specific diagnosis of the condition.
- Medication that strengthens the bladder sphincter muscles.
- Fertility treatments, such as extracting semen from the urine to use in artificial insemination.
References: American Diabetes Association. (2013, June 7). Autonomic Neuropathy. Retrieved from http://www.diabetes.org/living-with diabetes/complications/neuropathy/autonomic-neuropathy.html. American Diabetes Association. (2013, August 1). Sexual Health. Retrieved from http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/women/sexual-health.html Auteri, S. (2014, March). How Chronic Illness Can Affect Sexual Function. Retrieved from https://www.aasect.org/how-chronic-illness-can-affect-sexual-function The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2008, December). Diabetes & Sexual & Urologic Problems. Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/sexual-urologic-problems Nyirjesy, P. (2013, May). Genital mycotic infections in patients with diabetes. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23748505
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Taylor Griffith is an award-winning journalist with a background in newspaper, magazine and digital writing. She earned her degree from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. She regularly contributes to drugwatch.com, along with other publications.