Looking for something different to do for your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day this year? Sexual problems (sexual dysfunctions) are common among both women and men with diabetes as a result of complications from the disease. This year as a gift to your partner and to yourself, be courageous and learn about this personal issue and talk to your healthcare provider about what options are available. Remember, it’s normal to feel embarrassed discussing intimacy, but your doctor is a professional who is there to help you, not judge you. This is a medical problem – not a personal failure. Here is a little background information to get your started.
Good sex requires the right circumstances so you both feel excited and safe. Feeling “aroused” requires good nerve conduction, blood flow, and the right balance of hormones. Fluctuation in hormone and blood glucose levels, depression, and nerve damage all contribute to sexual dysfunction. The American Diabetes Association provides a three-step approach to help alleviate fears associated with diabetes and sexual dysfunction:
- Start with yourself – You can lower the risk for sexual dysfunction or alleviate the condition if you already have it. Monitor blood glucose levels. Get plenty of rest. Enjoy a healthy meal plan. Incorporate physical activity throughout your day.
- Communicate with your partner – Communication can reduce anxiety associated with sexual dysfunction. Set time aside for honest discussion. Listen carefully.
- Work with your physician – Make regular visits and set personal goals. Write down questions ahead of time, and research some options before you visit. Ask about counseling or medicines or procedures that can help.
Diabetes in men can cause nerve and artery damage in the genital area, disrupting the blood flow necessary for an erection. Some men may experience an ejaculation which goes backward into the bladder which can make it difficult to father a child. Over a long period of time high blood sugar levels can lead to low testosterone and may contribute to decreased sexual interest.
Diabetes in women can result in nerve damage that causes vaginal dryness making intercourse uncomfortable. Nerve damage can also lead to loss of sensation in the genital area. Urinary infections (yeast infections) are also more common in people with diabetes, making intercourse uncomfortable.
There is a range of treatments, and any therapy will be more successful if both you and your partner are involved in the process. Keep your sexual play interesting. Something new may restore some freshness and improve both interest and function. Make sure you are having fun. Take time to connect with your partner. Have a date night, and take time to have a relationship with each other on purpose. Redefine sex, take your time. You may find it helpful to meet with a mental health professional (such as a therapist) who can help you learn how to reduce stress and change behaviors and attitudes associated with impotence and lack of sexual desire. Other Impotence treatments for men include oral medications (Viagra, Cialis, Levitra); mechanical methods (vacuum pumps and constriction rings); and surgical methods like penile implants.
Sexual issues don’t just impact you; they affect your personal relationships and create challenges of trust, intimacy, and closeness. Your partner may wonder if you are losing interest, or if you don’t want to spend time with them. Understanding how your sexual health can be affected by diabetes can help you manage this important life issue successfully.
Resources: American Diabetes Association; Harvard medical School Patient Education Center; American Association of Diabetes Educators; Joslin Diabetes Center