A healthy sexual relationship is one of life’s expectations and pleasures. When things go wrong—whether we have diabetes or not—many of us find it hard to accept that there might be a problem. It’s important to know there is a great deal of support available.
While most people with diabetes, can lead completely normal sex lives, diabetes may contribute to sexual problems for some people.
For men, the most common problem is erectile dysfunction—also known as impotence. This results in the inability to get or keep an erection long enough for intercourse. Ejaculation may or may not be affected. Fertility remains normal.
In general, less is known about sexual problems in women and this includes women with diabetes.
Read more in our fact sheet Sexual health and diabetes.
Most men have an occasional problem with erectile dysfunction at some time in their life. This can be caused by many factors like being tired, stressed, and depressed or drinking too much alcohol. Some medications may also cause erectile dysfunction, such as medications for high blood pressure, depression or stomach ulcers. It’s important to always tell your doctor about any medications you may be taking for other conditions. Both men and women with diabetes may also lose their sexual desire when their blood glucose levels are high.
Reduced blood flow and nerve damage to the penis are generally the underlying reasons for erectile dysfunction for men with diabetes. Often men with diabetes who have the condition also have other complications related to nerve damage or blood circulation problems, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or heart disease.
Erectile dysfunction can be treated in several ways, including:
- tablets (e.g., Viagra, Cialis and Levitra)
- Prostaglandin injection into the side of the penis (e.g., Caverject)
- devices such as the vacuum pump
- surgery such as penile implants.
While tablets are easy to take, they may not work for everyone. Discuss all the options with your doctor to decide what is best for you.
Sexual and reproductive health in women
The main sexual problems that women deal with are vaginal dryness, a decrease in sexual desire, pain during sex and trouble having an orgasm. Whether diabetes affects these problems is unclear, although women who find it hard to come to terms with having diabetes are more likely to report sexual problems. Women with diabetes are also more likely to get thrush (a yeast infection), but keeping your blood glucose levels in the target range helps to avoid this.
During periods or menopause, some women’s blood glucose levels may change which means they need to adjust their treatment. Your doctor or diabetes educator can offer advice.
Dealing with sexual problems
Sexual problems are the same as any other medical problem. You need to talk to your doctor about the strategies that will best suit you and your lifestyle.
Accept that there is a problem. Thinking that it might go away will only delay treatment. The sooner you seek help the sooner the problem can be treated. If you have a partner, talk through the problems you are both experiencing. Sexual problems have the potential to cause a strain in the relationship.
Learn about the condition. Finding out as much as you can and the treatments available can bring positive results and improve your sense of well-being.