Not to state the obvious but sex is good. Besides reasons such as intimacy and procreation, sex improves one’s quality of life. However, for those living with diabetes, as with everything else, it can affect your sexual life. Your sexual well-being goes hand in hand with your overall mental, physical, and emotional 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.
How diabetes affects one’s sexual health:
Less blood flow
Diabetes affects blood flow, which could affect blood reaching the penis or vagina. For a man to achieve and sustain an erection, he needs blood to flow to the penis. Erectile dysfunction (ED), the inability to achieve or maintain an erection is the main sexual health problem affecting men with diabetes. 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.
According to Endocrinologist Shirisha Avadhanula, MD, “Obesity, high blood pressure, sleep apnea and depression are common conditions that occur alongside diabetes. Obesity can indirectly lead to erectile dysfunction (ED). Sleep apnea can cause ED for men or put women at a higher risk for sexual difficulties. Depression and anxiety can also negatively impact the libido or lead to the use of medication that affects sexual interest or function.”
In women, decreased blood flow could play a role in vaginal dryness. And dryness can cause painful sex and a reduced ability to experience an orgasm. 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.
Changes in testosterone or estrogen (because of diabetes, menopause or co-occurring conditions) can impact libido, lubrication and the ability to become sexually aroused. Studies show that men with diabetes often have reduced testosterone levels, which can affect their sex drive.
During menopause, a woman with diabetes may experience sudden drops in her blood sugar levels.
Having high levels of glucose can damage nerves. The tip of the penis and clitoris are loaded with nerves. If those nerves become damaged, the result might be decreased sexual sensation or even painful intercourse.
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.
Psychological effects of diabetes:
Living with diabetes may have a number of psychological effects, which can also make sex more difficult. Some of these effects include; changes to self-image, anxiety, concerns over weight gain, depression, isolation, loneliness, and loss of self-esteem.
How to have better sex with diabetes
Do not be dismayed, it’s not all gloom. One can still enjoy and maintain an active sexual life despite living with diabetes. Lifestyle changes, medications, and opening up the lines of communication with your partner are just a few of the things you may find helpful.
Maintain good overall health for healthy sex life: For people with diabetes, this includes maintaining proper blood sugar levels. Sex is an exercise in the sense that it uses energy, so be aware of your glucose levels.
Use a lubricant: If you are a woman with vaginal dryness, a vaginal lubricant can make sex feel better. Ask your doctor about using one regularly, not just during sex.
Improve libido through medication: Hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) can help both men and women with issues such as decreased libido, vaginal dryness, and ED.
Exercise: Research shows exercise plays a role in reversing diabetes symptoms—and it also works wonders for your sex life by strengthening your heart, improving flexibility and stamina, and increasing blood flow to those all-important areas.
Consult your doctor: People with diabetes who have concerns or questions about their sexual health should contact their endocrinologist or doctor. Whatever the treatment decisions, a person should never feel ashamed or embarrassed if diabetes affects their sexual function.