Diabetes and Sexual Intimacy
Sexual intimacy is an important part of life. For people with diabetes, it's necessary to pay close attention to issues concerning their sexual health. That's because damage to the nerves or blood vessels caused by diabetes can interfere with sexual function. Certain medications used to treat diabetes-related complications can also affect sexual health. By discussing these issues with your health care provider, you can continue to enjoy this part of your life.
Men's sexual concerns
According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes can damage the blood vessels and nerves of the penis. This damage can lead to erectile dysfunction (ED), the inability to get or sustain an erection. Diabetes also increases the risk for low testosterone and depression, both of which can contribute to ED. In addition, ED may be a side effect from certain medications used to treat high blood pressure and heartburn resulting from gastroparesis--a diabetes-related stomach condition. Men with diabetes are two to three times more likely than those without it to have ED. They also tend to develop the problem at a younger age.
When ED is linked to nerve damage caused by diabetes, treatment options include pills, medicine inserted into the penis, a vacuum tube and pump, or surgery to implant a device inside the penis. Surgery can also be done to repair blood vessels in the area.
Women's sexual concerns
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases reports that diabetes can cause nerve damage and reduced blood flow in the vagina that can lead to dryness. This, in turn, can cause discomfort during sexual activity. Depression may also interfere with sexual desire and make it difficult to discuss sexual concerns with your partner or health care provider. Vaginal lubricant creams may help with dryness. Your provider might recommend changes in position or Kegel exercises to strengthen muscles in the pelvic area to enhance sexual arousal.
Talking with your doctor
If you feel uncomfortable talking about problems with your sexual health, remember that your health care provider has helped many people with diabetes resolve these issues. He or she can also recommend treatment options for depression. If you're not sure how to talk about these issues, try saying that you have a personal question you'd like to ask. Together, you and your provider can find a solution.
- Grantham, Paula, RN, BSN
- MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician