In a society where sex is omnipresent, it’s surprising to realize that it’s still a taboo topic. Although we openly discuss many of the complications of diabetes, there’s very little talk about sexual problems—which occur more frequently and earlier in people with diabetes.
When desire flags
Blood glucose levels are sometimes behind this, especially if they’ve been poorly managed for years. The inflammation, nerve damage and circulatory problems caused by improper blood glucose management can hinder libido. There’s also a link between diabetes and low testosterone, a hormone that’s closely related to sexual desire and which is, contrary to widely held beliefs, found in both men and women. Finally, the heart of the problem may lie in psychological factors, lifestyle habits or medication, which means the treatment will vary based on the cause.
When pleasure fails to show up
Men and women with diabetes may have difficulty reaching orgasm despite experiencing sexual desire. In women, this is sometimes due to a diabetes-related nervous or hormonal problem that results in a loss of sensation. Men can be unable to ejaculate or experience retrograde ejaculation (with sperm ending up in the bladder) due to blood flow or internal muscle contraction issues. Many other factors may be involved, both physically and psychologically, and again, measures to deal with the problem will depend on what caused it.
When it’s painful
Diabetic women are twice as likely to suffer from vaginal dryness, the causes of which can include nerve damage, low estrogen or hormonal disorders. They are also more likely to develop urinary or yeast infections, often linked to chronic hyperglycemia. Diabetic men, on the other hand, are more likely to contract Peyronie’s disease, a condition characterized by the formation of scar tissue in the penis causing curved and painful erections. It should be noted that all of these painful situations have a solution (lubricants, medication, physiotherapy, surgery, etc.).
When your body can’t keep pace
Erectile dysfunction is the most common sexual disorder in men with diabetes. It is defined as the inability to have or maintain an erection. Besides age, several factors increase the risk of erectile dysfunction, such as overweight, high cholesterol, smoking, alcohol, hypertension, medication and poor blood glucose management. One side effect of hyperglycemia is to damage blood vessel walls, which hinders the flow of blood to the penis. Fortunately, several treatments can help regain a fulfilling sex life—for example, lifestyle changes, medication and physical aids (constriction rings, pumps, etc.).
An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure!
There are several things you can do to limit the effect of diabetes on your sexual health:
Manage your blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol optimally.
Quit smoking and limit your alcohol intake.
Exercise and eat a balanced diet.
Maintain a healthy weight.
Find good ways to manage your stress.
Follow your treatment plan.
But when you do need a cure…
Nowadays, we have plenty of solutions to address sexual problems. There is no need for you to suffer in silence, and most importantly, you have no reason to be ashamed. Talk to your doctor or health care professional; they can help you find the right treatment by asking you questions, performing a physical exam, and conducting additional tests as needed. Diabetes is part of your life, but it certainly doesn’t have to be a guest in your bedroom!