Diabetes is a common condition that affects about 246 million people worldwide and is expected to affect even more in the upcoming years. This chronic condition can result in many long-term and short-term complications.1
Uncontrolled blood sugar levels in people with diabetes can affect different parts of the body, ranging from nerves to the sexual organs of both men and women.1 Several studies show that sexual dysfunction is commonly seen in people with diabetes.1,2
What is sexual dysfunction?
Sexual dysfunction is a problem that can occur anytime between being sexually aroused to the completion of sexual activity and can result in incomplete sexual satisfaction.3 Sexual dysfunction can include:3
- Lack of interest in sex
- The inability to be sexually aroused
- Failure or delay in reaching the climax during intercourse
- Experiencing pain during intercourse
What are the common sexual problems observed in men with diabetes?
Diabetes can affect sexual performance in men in the long run. Men who have diabetes may experience the following problems in sexual function:4
- Erectile dysfunction: The person is unable to get an erection firm enough for intercourse. It happens due to damage to the nerves or circulation problems that arise due to diabetes.
- Retrograde ejaculation: The semen travels backwards into the bladder instead of being ejaculated through the penis.
- Curved penis: The erect penis develops a curved shape, which makes intercourse difficult or painful.
- Low testosterone: The secretion of the male hormone, testosterone, is reduced.
- Infertility: The individual may not be able to get his female partner pregnant.
Which are the common sexual problems in women with diabetes?
Hormonal changes, changes in blood flow and nerve damage due to diabetes can cause the following sexual problems in women:3,4
- The inability to be aroused or stay aroused for a long time
- Insufficient vaginal lubrication
- Failure to orgasm
- Pain during sex
- Frequent vaginal infections
What are the main causes of sexual problems in people with diabetes?
Research has shown that increased blood sugar levels in diabetes are the main reason for damage to the blood vessels and nerves. This damaging effect on the blood vessels causes decreased blood flow to the sexual organs and damage to the nerves can cause decreased sensation to the sexual organs. Hormonal imbalance in individuals with diabetes can also contribute to sexual problems. Increased blood sugar levels in women with diabetes can also reduce the hydration of the vaginal mucosa, causing less lubrication of the vagina and pain with intercourse. Studies have proven that environmental factors, smoking, obesity and the presence of health conditions such as high blood pressure can contribute to the development of diabetes and, eventually, can cause sexual dysfunction.5
Can people with diabetes prevent sexual dysfunction?
It is possible to delay and prevent health complications that arise in people with diabetes, including sexual problems.6 The following tips may help in preventing these complications:4,6
- Keep your blood sugar levels in control: Try to maintain normal blood sugar levels as both high and low blood sugar levels may cause problems during sex.4
- Exercise regularly: Staying physically active can help control blood sugar levels and prevent the development of sexual dysfunction. However, be careful to avoid low blood sugar levels as they may affect sexual health.4,6
- Develop healthy eating habits: Eat fresh and healthy food such as whole grains, vegetables and fruits. Avoid drinks containing sugar and increase protein intake. Avoid processed food and drink plenty of water.6
- Maintain a healthy weight: Regular workout and physical activity will help to control weight and keep your blood sugar and blood pressure under control.4,6
- Psychological counselling:4 Diabetes can cause emotional disturbances, sexual dysfunction, and also make it difficult to conceive. It is necessary to discuss your problems with counsellors so that they can help you overcome the emotional stress associated with sexual problems.4
- Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol if you have diabetes as these can compound the issues caused by diabetes.6
Diabetes leads to complications that affect the health of different organ systems in the body, including sexual health.4,6 However, a healthy lifestyle can definitely delay the onset of these complications or even prevent them.5 Psychological counselling by experts can help in managing sexual problems that occur due to diabetes.4
Some simple lifestyle modifications with regular blood sugar level monitoring and follow-up with the doctor will help in reducing stress levels and improving the overall well-being of a person.4
Leading a happy and satisfying life is a matter of choice — choose a healthy lifestyle; do not let diabetes steal your mojo!
- Ziaei-Rad M, Vahdaninia M, Montazeri A; Sexual dysfunctions in patients with diabetes: A study from Iran. Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 2010 May 18;8:50. doi:10.1186/1477-7827-8-50.
- Corona G, Giorda CB, Cucinotta D, Guida P, Nada E, SUBITO-DE Study Group. Sexual dysfunction in type 2 diabetes at diagnosis: Progression over time and drug and non-drug correlated factors. PLoS One. 2016 Oct 5;11(10):e0157915. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0157915.
- Cleveland Clinic. Diabetes and female sexuality [Internet]. [updated 2015 Mar 4;cited 2019 Nov 26]. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/7826-diabetes-and-female-sexuality.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Diabetes, sexual, & bladder problems [Internet]. [updated 2018 Jun; cited 2019 Nov 26]. Available from: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/sexual-bladder-problems.
- Maiorino MI, Bellastella G, Esposito K. Diabetes and sexual dysfunction: current perspectives. Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 2014 Mar 6;7:95-105. doi: 10.2147/DMSO.S36455.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Living with diabetes: Prevent complications [Internet]. [updated 2019 Aug 1;cited 2019 Nov 26]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/problems.html.