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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 medicines used to treat diabetes-related complications can also affect sexual health. By discussing these issues with your healthcare 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). This is the inability to get or sustain an erection. Diabetes also increases the risk for low testosterone and depression. Both of these can contribute to ED. In addition, ED may be a side effect from certain medicines used to treat high blood pressure and heartburn resulting from gastroparesis. This is a diabetes-related stomach condition. Men with diabetes are 2 to 3 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 and blood vessel damage caused by diabetes, treatment choices include pills, medicine injected or 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. It may make it difficult to discuss sexual concerns with your partner or healthcare 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. A new medicine (flibanserin) was also recently approved by the FDA. It has been shown to increase sexual desire in premenopausal women. 

Talking with your healthcare provider

If you feel uncomfortable talking about problems with your sexual health, remember that your healthcare provider has helped many people with diabetes resolve these issues. He or she can also recommend treatment choices 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.

 

 

Medical Reviewers:

  • Hurd, Robert, MD
  • Sather, Rita, RN