Contents of this article:
How does diabetes impact the sexual organs?
Diabetes can affect the sexual health of both men and women in the following ways:
Impact on women
Diabetes may impact a woman's sexual health by damaging the nerves that can sense sexual stimulation.
Damage caused by diabetes to the nerves can affect a woman's ability to sense sexual stimulation and arousal. This can affect the release of vaginal lubricant, which may result in painful sex and reduced ability to experience an orgasm.
When a woman who has diabetes goes through the menopause, she may experience sudden drops in her blood sugar levels. This may affect a woman's sexual health because she may have to check her blood sugar before having sex.
She might also experience symptoms of low blood sugar during sex. This may make sex seem more of an inconvenience than a pleasure.
Impact on men
Men with diabetes often have reduced testosterone levels, which can affect their sex drive. However, the main sexual health problem affecting men who have diabetes is an inability to achieve and, or, maintain an erection. According to the Joslin Diabetes Center, an estimated 50 percent of men who have had diabetes for 10 years experience erectile dysfunction (ED).
In order for a man to achieve an erection, significant blood flow to the penis is required. However, diabetes damages the blood vessels, which can affect blood flow to the penis. Diabetes can also lead to nerve damage that affects communication between a man's penis and his brain. This may make it more difficult for him to maintain an erection.
Impact on both sexes
People with diabetes can often feel very tired. They often invest a significant amount of time in managing their health, which may decrease their overall sex drive.
Sometimes people with diabetes wear an insulin pump. This is a device that allows a person to inject small amounts of insulin into their blood when they need it. This helps them maintain their sugar levels and may enable them to enjoy sex more spontaneously.
People with diabetes may also experience a number of psychological effects, which may make sex more difficult for them. Examples include:
- affected self-image
- concerns over weight gain
- loss of self-esteem
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. Although these medications can help reduce the incidence of depression, they may also result in reduced libido.
Treatments to improve sexual function in those with diabetes
Maintaining blood sugar levels is vital in preventing the nerve damage that can cause problems, including for a person's sexual health. Techniques to control blood sugar levels include using insulin, taking medications, and checking blood glucose levels regularly.
Treatment options for men
Although not suitable for every man, a doctor may prescribe medication to enhance blood flow and improve a man's ability to maintain an erection.
There are several medications a doctor can prescribe to enhance blood flow and improve a man's ability to achieve an erection. Examples of these are sildenafil (Viagra) and tadalafil (Cialis).
However, these medications may not be suitable for every man, particularly those with high blood pressure or heart conditions.
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 and can be purchased at most drugstores.
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.
Lifestyle changes to improve sexual function
Living a healthful lifestyle is an important way for men and women with diabetes to achieve good sexual health. This can include eating a healthful diet and exercising regularly. These practices are excellent for overall good health, and can promote self-esteem.
If a person is overweight, losing weight will often help to improve their feelings of well-being, which can then improve their sex life.
Pelvic floor exercises
Follow these simple instructions to Isolate 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.
People with diabetes may find that engaging in stress-reducing practices can help. Examples of these practices include meditation, reading a favorite book, exercising, or 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.
Considerations and questions to ask
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, the study did find that a significant number of men and women, aged 57-85, who had diabetes engaged in sexual activity between 2-3 times a week.
If people with diabetes have any questions about sexual health then they should consult a healthcare professional.
People with diabetes who have questions about their sexual health should contact their endocrinologist or doctor. Examples of questions to potentially ask include:
- What do I need to know to better control 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 that a person with diabetes who is experiencing sexual health issues should see a counselor or therapist to help improve their 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 their sexual function is affected by diabetes. Reaching out to their doctor and having an open, honest discussion with a partner can be the first steps to living a healthier life overall, with a better sex life.