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5 Ways to Have Healthy Sex When You Have Diabetes

Here’s how to continue enjoying intimacy


Video: Tips to Keep Diabetes From Killing Your Sex Life

Age and the passage of time usher in many changes. But in all my years practicing medicine, one thing remains a constant: My patients want to continue having a fulfilling and pleasurable sex life, even if they’re dealing with health problems or chronic illness. One disease that can take a heavy toll on a couple’s sex life is diabetes. Fortunately, there are ways to manage it and reignite your sex drive. Don’t despair! Here’s how you can do it.

The role of glucose in your sex life

People with diabetes are more prone to sexual dysfunction than the rest of the population, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Both men and women may experience little or no sex drive due to poor management of their diabetes. But only 47 percent of men and 19 percent of women with diabetes discuss this issue with their doctors, according to a study published by Diabetes Care. Controlling blood sugar levels with medication and regularly monitoring these levels is essential to maintaining a healthy sex life.

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But even if blood sugar is kept under control, men and women with diabetes may feel sexual desire but have difficulty becoming physically aroused.

And a failure to control blood sugar will eventually lead to blood vessel and nerve damage, which can prevent arousal.

How does diabetes affect your sex life?

There are many reasons why people with diabetes lose their sex drive or their ability to orgasm. Obesity, high blood pressure, sleep apnea and depression are conditions that often accompany diabetes and can compromise your libido. Some of the medications used to treat these conditions can also adversely affect your sex life. Some treatments for high blood pressure, for instance, can cause erectile dysfunction.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the sexual disorders of patients with type 1 diabetes are directly linked to depression and are less severe in those who accept their diabetes. These disorders also affect men more than women, and they take a greater toll on patients with blood glucose levels above 6.5 percent.

Erectile dysfunction in men with diabetes

If a man’s blood vessels don’t function properly or he has a blocked artery, his penis will not receive enough blood flow to get an erection. Men over 50 with type 2 diabetes are 11 times more likely to experience erectile dysfunction than younger men, according to a study published in the Caspian Journal of Internal Medicine.  

Men with diabetes-related erectile dysfunction are also at greater risk of developing Peyronie’s disease, where a type of scar tissue known as plaque forms under the skin of the penis. This causes a curvature that can make erections painful, difficult or impossible.

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Sexual problems in women with diabetes

Nerve damage in women can cause vaginal dryness, a condition that is not unique to people with diabetes but, according to the ADA, is twice as common in this population. The neurovascular system plays a necessary role in arousal and orgasm. If the small nerves aren’t working properly due to damage from poorly controlled blood sugar, a woman can have sensation problems. The clitoris needs optimal blood flow and sensation to become engorged enough to achieve orgasm.

Women with diabetes are also at greater risk of urinary tract and vaginal infections, which can make sexual intercourse painful and unpleasurable. Middle-aged women with diabetes who take insulin are 80 percent more likely to have difficulty reaching orgasm than women without diabetes, according to a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology.

How can you maintain a healthy sex life?

Here are some practical suggestions that anyone can follow:

1. Eat right

Eating healthy can make all the difference. Non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli and carrots, and whole grains can help stabilize your blood sugar and give you the energy you need to have sex. These foods are also rich in fiber and nourish your gut microbiome — the bacteria and other organisms that keep your gut healthy. A snack before sex will help boost your stamina and keep your blood sugar under control.

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2. Exercise

Sex, like any other form of exercise, requires energy. So how can you be prepared? Activities such as weightlifting and Zumba classes can help you build stamina and have more energy in bed. I recommend at least 150 minutes of exercise per week, which can include walking, swimming or even gardening. Exercise also makes the body more sensitive to insulin, which helps it control insulin levels more efficiently.

3. Take your medications

Strictly follow your doctor’s instructions and make sure you take your medications. If you have diabetes, controlling your blood sugar starts with taking your prescriptions. Talk with your doctor if you suspect that a medication prescribed to treat other conditions may be interfering with your sex life, so that you can work together to look for alternatives. I also recommend buying a weekly pill organizer, which has been shown to help increase compliance with medical treatment.

4. Manage stress

Learning that you have diabetes can be upsetting and can affect your mental health. Learn how to calm your mind and body in stressful moments, such as during a sexual encounter. Brush away negative thoughts. Be grateful for — and focus on — enjoyable moments. Meditation can be very helpful. Research shows that meditation may strengthen the parts of the brain that help you remain calmer in stressful situations. But my favorite tool for reducing stress and anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy; check with your doctor to see if this is a good option for you.

5. Be consistent

Consistency is a bridge between dreams and reality. Follow these suggestions daily. Take it gradually at first. Don’t reach for gimmicky or drastic solutions; just stick to the basics and you’ll get results, especially over time. Remember that the key is consistency, not perfection.

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