How does diabetes affect your sex life?

How does diabetes affect sex life for men and for women? Treatment and lifestyle tips

By Rachel Nall, RN, BSN, CCRN  

Reviewed by Janet Brito, PhD,
Having diabetes affects much
more than a person’s diet. It can impact every aspect of their life, including
their sexual health.
When a person has diabetes,
their body cannot use insulin properly, and this can lead to high blood sugar
levels. Over time, these can lead to complications such as nerve damage and
cardiovascular problems. Both have implications for sexual health.
Diabetes can also have an
impact on a person’s mental health and self-esteem, and this, too, can affect
sexual health.
Impact on women

High blood sugar levels can
cause nerve damage throughout the body.
In women, this can affect:

  • the ability to experience
    sexual stimulation and arousal
  • the release of vaginal

These changes may result in
painful sex and a reduced ability to experience an orgasm.

During menopause, a woman with
diabetes may experience sudden drops in her blood sugar levels.
This may affect her sexual health
because she might experience symptoms of low blood sugar during sex. This may
make sex seem more of an inconvenience than a pleasure.
She may also have to check her
blood sugar before having sex.
In addition, women with
diabetes are more likely to experience infections, such as thrush, cystitis,
and urinary tract infections. These can all impact the ability to have or enjoy
sexual intercourse.
Impact on men

Studies show that men with
diabetes often have reduced testosterone levels, which can affect their sex
However, the main sexual
health problem affecting men with diabetes is an inability to achieve or
maintain an erection, known as erectile dysfunction (ED).
For a man to achieve an
erection, there must be significant blood flow to the penis. However, diabetes
damages the blood vessels, which can affect blood flow to the penis.
Diabetes can also lead to
nerve damage and make it more difficult for him to maintain an erection.
Type 2 diabetes often occurs
alongside obesity or excess weight. This, too, can increase the risk of ED, as
can previous prostate or bladder surgery.
According to the American
Diabetes Association, 10–20 percent of cases of ED are due to stress, depression,
low self-esteem, fear of sexual failure, and other mental health concerns.
These can all affect a person with a long-term condition, such as diabetes.
Click here to learn more about
the specific ways in which diabetes affects men.
Impact on both sexes

People with diabetes often
feel tired. They may also have a range of health concerns, due to
complications, and they may invest a significant amount of time in managing
their health. These factors may decrease a person’s overall sex drive.
Using an insulin pump

Some people with diabetes wear
a small pump that supplies insulin to the body. This helps them maintain their
sugar levels and may enable them to enjoy sex more spontaneously.
A person may feel
self-conscious about wearing the pump during sex or afraid that it may detach.
It is safe to disconnect the
pump for up to 1 hour during intimacy, according to one source, and it is not
dangerous for a pump to become detached.
However, the user must
remember to reattach it within 45 minutes to one hour.
Explaining to a new partner
about diabetes early in the relationship will lead to a better understanding
and communication and reduce embarrassment on both sides.
Psychological impact

A number of psychological
effects can also make sex more difficult.
Examples include:

  • changes to self-image
  • anxiety
  • concerns over weight gain
  • depression
  • isolation
  • loneliness
  • loss of self-esteem
A doctor can help a person get
help to resolve these problems.

Drugs are available to treat
people who are struggling with mental health issues as a result of diabetes.
Known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), examples include
Prozac and Zoloft.
These medications can help
reduce the incidence of depression, but they may also result in reduced libido.

Maintaining healthy blood
sugar levels is vital in preventing the nerve damage that can cause problems,
including for a person’s sexual health.
Ways of managing blood sugar
levels include using insulin, taking medications, and checking blood glucose
levels regularly.
Treatment options for men
There are several medications
a doctor can prescribe to enhance blood flow and improve a man’s ability to
achieve an erection.
Examples include:

  • sildenafil (Viagra)
  • tadalafil (Cialis)
  • vardenafil (Levitra)
  • avanafil (Stendra)
However, these medications may
not be suitable for every man, particularly those with high blood pressure or
heart conditions.
Find out more here about these
Some men may find that
mechanical methods to improve blood flow, such as vacuum pumps and injections
into the penis, are effective.
Some men undergo surgery, such
as a penile implant, which can also increase the ability to get an erection.
Treatment options for women

Women may wish to use a
vaginal lubricant before engaging in sex to reduce pain during intercourse. The
lubricant should be water-based.
Lubricants are available at most
drugstores or for purchase online.
Hormone replacement therapies

Hormone replacement therapies
can improve sexual desire for both men and women.
However, these therapies can
have side effects, so it is important that people discuss these fully with a
doctor before starting to take any medications.
A study published in 2016
notes that it is not yet clear how hormone therapy will affect an individual’s
insulin sensitivity, especially during menopause.
Lifestyle tips

Living a healthful lifestyle
is an important way for men and women with diabetes to boost their overall
sense of wellbeing, as well as their sexual health.
Tips include:

  • eating a healthful diet
  • exercising regularly
  • maintaining a healthy weight
These practices are excellent
for overall good health and can promote self-esteem.
Pelvic floor exercises

In 2017, researchers suggested
that sex education and exercises for the pelvic floor muscles — known as Kegel
exercises — may improve a woman’s sexual response after menopause.
Follow these simple
instructions to identify and exercise the muscles:

  • Identify the pelvic floor
    muscles by sitting on the toilet and trying to stop a stream of urine. Or
    insert a finger into the vagina and squeeze the vaginal muscles around the
    finger. These are the target muscles.
  • Tighten and hold the muscles.
    Start by holding the muscles for about 3 seconds and then releasing for 3
    seconds. Repeat the exercise 10 times in a row, if possible.
  • Repeat the exercises at least
    twice per day, increasing the length of time the muscles are contracted from 3
    seconds to 5 seconds.
Men can also do Kegel
exercises and may find the exercises improve their control over ejaculation and
reduce incidences of incontinence.
Stress reduction

People with diabetes may find
that engaging in stress-reducing practices can help. Examples of these
practices include:

  • meditation
  • reading a book
  • exercising
  • listening to music
Taking even a small amount of
time during the day to do something enjoyable can help reduce stress for people
with diabetes.
When to see a doctor

According to a study published
in the September 2010 issue of the journal Diabetes Care, only 19 percent of
women and 47 percent of men with diabetes had discussed their sexual health
with their doctors.
However, sexual health
problems are not inevitable with diabetes. The study also found that a
significant number of men and women with diabetes, aged 57–85 years, engaged in
sexual activity 2–3 times a week.
People with diabetes who have
concerns or questions about their sexual health should contact their
endocrinologist or doctor.
Examples of questions to ask

  • What do I need to know to
    better manage my diabetes?
  • What other health problems do
    I have that may be affecting my sexual health?
  • What medications am I taking
    that could be affecting my sex life?
A doctor may also recommend
seeing a counselor or therapist to help improve self-esteem and overall
self-perception. Counseling for couples can also be beneficial.

Whatever the treatment decisions,
a person should never feel ashamed or embarrassed if diabetes affects their
sexual function.
Reaching out to a trusted
healthcare professional and having an open, honest discussion with a partner
can be the first steps to living a healthier life overall, with a better sex
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Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.