Sexual health

A healthy sexual relationship is one of life’s expectations and pleasures. When things go wrong, whether or not we have diabetes, many of us find it hard to accept that there might be a problem. It’s important to know there is support available.

  • While most people with diabetes, both male and female, are able to lead completely normal sex lives, diabetes may contribute to sexual problems for some people
  • The most common problem is erectile dysfunction in men (also known as impotence) which results in the inability to get or keep an erection long enough for intercourse. Ejaculation may or may not be affected. Fertility remains normal
  • Both men and women with diabetes may also lose their sexual desire when their blood glucose levels are high.

Erectile dysfunction

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 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.

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 a number of 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. So discuss all the options with your doctor to decide what’s best for you.

Resources: Diabetes Australia in conjunction with Eli Lilly and Impotence Australia have released a publication on understanding the impact of diabetes on erectile dysfunction. - Treat ED: Diabetes Edition

Sexual & reproductive health in women

In general, much less is known about sexual problems in women and this includes women with diabetes. 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 poorly controlled diabetes are more likely to have frequent bouts of thrush (yeast infection). In most cases, keeping blood glucose levels under control will help.

During periods or menopause, blood glucose levels may change. Women affected by this will need to adjust their treatment. Your doctor or Credentialled Diabetes Educator will help during these times.

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 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. If you feel this is happening, you may like to contact Relationships Australia.

Learn about the condition. Finding out as much as you can and the treatments available will bring positive results and improve your sense of well being.

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