Having diabetes can have a major impact on your sex life. Prolonged high blood sugar levels increase the chances of developing sexual dysfunction and this is more likely to be the case if you have neuropathy or reduced circulation.

All types of diabetes can lead to difficulties with sexual intercourse, although it’s no foregone conclusion and, should problems occur, there are a range of different treatments that can help.

How diabetes can affect sex life

  • Reduced sensitivity – if neuropathy causes sensory nerves of the genitals to be damaged
  • Sexual dysfunction – this can affect both men and women
  • Reduced libido – reduced sex drive may be caused by a number of factors
  • Hypoglycemia – can occur during sex if you take certain diabetes medications
  • Urinary tract infections – regularly high blood glucose levels may increase the chance of developing a UTI

Sexual dysfunction may be temporary and could be brought on by psychological reasons, a new course of medication, or higher or lower blood glucose levels than normal.

If sexual dysfunction does not improve, or gets worse, consult your doctor. He or she should be familiar with discussing sexual difficulties so don’t feel embarrassed about any problems you have or put off making an appointment.

How diabetes can affect sex for men

Diabetes can result in narrowed blood vessels and damaged nerves in the penis, both of which can lead to difficulty in getting or maintaining an erection (erectile dysfunction).

Nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy), a common complication of diabetes, may lead to reduced sensitivity of the penis meaning which may make ejaculation more difficult to achieve.

Phimosis (tight foreskin) is more common in men with higher than normal blood glucose levels. Phimosis may improve once blood glucose levels are brought under control but may require treatment if it doesn’t improve.

How diabetes can affect sex for women

Female sexual dysfunction can also be caused be caused by neuropathy, which can cause difficulties with arousal of the clitoris or in reaching orgasm.

Reduced vaginal lubrication may be caused by low oestrogen levels and can make sex painful, while too high blood glucose levels can increase the chance of developing thrush, urinary tract infections which may lead to vaginitis or cystitis.

How likely am I to experience sexual dysfunction?

Male or female sexual dysfunction is more likely if you have had high blood glucose levels for a number of years but it can also be relatively common in people without diabetes.

Other factors that can increase the likelihood include:

  • Age – risk increases as we get older
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Smoking
  • Use of certain medications – corticosteroids, antidepressants, blood pressure medication, etc
  • Depression and other psychological factors

Sex drive

Many of the factors that increase the likelihood of developing sexual dysfunction may also influence a loss of sex drive.

Other factors that can play a part include:

Psychological issues and relationship issues can also be a contributing factor.

Hypoglycemia

Abnormally low blood glucose levels (hypoglycemia) can be problematic for people taking insulin or oral diabetes drugs such as sulphonylureas or prandial glucose regulators (glinides). If you are on these medications, it’s important not to miss the symptoms of hypoglycemia and risk a severe hypoglycemia occurring.

Having fast acting carbohydrate to hand, such as glucose tablets, is highly recommended should hypoglycemia occur.

Treatment

Treatment for sexual issues or difficulties vary depending on the problem and may include any of the following:

  • Counselling
  • Medications
  • Use of lubricants
  • Lifestyle changes