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Diabetes and Sexual Intimacy

Sexual intimacy is an important part of life. But people with diabetes must watch out for sexual problems. Diabetes can damage the nerves or blood vessels. This can interfere with sexual function. Certain medicines used to treat diabetes-related complications can also affect sexual health. It's helpful to talk about these issues with your healthcare provider. They can work with you to help you have a healthy sex life. In one study of people with type 1 diabetes, half of the men and about a third of the women reported one or more forms of sexual problems.

Male sexual concerns

Diabetes can damage the blood vessels and nerves of the penis. This damage can lead to erectile dysfunction (ED). This is when a person can't get or keep an erection. Diabetes also increases the risk for low testosterone and depression. Both of these can help lead to ED. In addition, ED may be a side effect of certain medicines used to treat high blood pressure and heartburn caused by gastroparesis. This is a diabetes-related stomach condition. People with diabetes are 2 to 3 times more likely to have ED. And they often have the problem at a younger age.

When ED is linked to nerve and blood vessel damage caused by diabetes, there are certain treatment choices. These include pills, medicine injected or inserted into the penis, a vacuum tube and pump, or surgery to implant a device inside the penis. Surgery can also be done to fix blood vessels in the area. Have your healthcare provider look at the list of medicines you take. They may decide that you can stop taking certain medicines to improve erectile function.

Female sexual concerns

Diabetes can cause nerve damage and reduced blood flow in the vagina that can lead to dryness. This can cause mild to severe pain during sex. Depression may also interfere with sexual desire. This may make it hard to talk about sexual concerns with your partner or healthcare provider. Vaginal lubricant creams may help with dryness. Your provider might advise changes in position. Or your provider may suggest Kegel exercises to strengthen pelvic muscles. This can help with sexual arousal. A new medicine (flibanserin) has been approved by the FDA. It's been shown to increase sexual desire in premenopausal people. Another injectable medicine (bremelanotide) has the same effect. People whose diabetes is not well controlled may be more likely to have vaginal yeast infections that require anti-fungal treatment.

Talking with your healthcare provider

You may not feel comfortable talking about your sexual health problems. But remember that your healthcare provider has helped many people with diabetes resolve these issues. They can also advise treatment choices for depression and sexual concerns. You may not be sure how to talk about these issues. Try saying that you have a personal question you'd like to ask. Your concerns show you are ready to make important lifestyle changes. These include quitting smoking or controlling your blood pressure or blood sugar. You and your provider can work together to find a solution.

Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Robert Hurd MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2023
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