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.