Sexual problems can be very difficult to discuss, particularly if the cause has not been identified. Therefore it’s important to know how to recognise the causes and symptoms of sexual dysfunction, so that it can be identified, discussed and treated or managed.
Sexual dysfunction and diabetes
Sexual dysfunction is more common in people with diabetes because poorly controlled diabetes can damage the blood vessels and nervous system causing reduced blood flow and loss of sensation in sexual organs. This can contribute to vaginal dryness in women and erection difficulties in men. Other problems associated with diabetes – such as heart disease and depression – together with some medications and surgery (eg bladder, bowel, prostate) can increase the chances of sexual dysfunction in people with diabetes.
Thrush is a common condition, made worse by high blood glucose levels, which can make sex uncomfortable. Good control of diabetes will help to prevent this.
Hypos can be caused by active sex. Having hypo treatment to hand will help. It might be helpful to discuss hypos and what to expect with your partner.
Problems around sexual dysfunction are often complex, and can be connected to emotional factors such as relationship difficulties, poor self-image, embarrassment and guilt. Tiredness, stress, alcohol, cigarettes and some recreational drugs also play their part.
Women and sexual dysfunction
Although not as well researched as male sexual dysfunction (see below), there is growing recognition that female sexual dysfunction (FSD) is widely experienced. Research has found women with diabetes are twice as likely to experience problems as those without. You may experience sexual dysfunction caused by physical factors or the medication you are taking, or a combination of both. Emotional and lifestyle factors also contribute to sexual dysfunction. It is important to be aware of the links between causes and symptoms so that you can seek the most effective help and support.
It is recognised that the four main areas of sexuality that women experiencing FSD find difficulty with are: desire, arousal, dyspareunia (pain with intercourse) and orgasm. At present there is no medication available specifically for the treatment of FSD, but research is ongoing. However, treatments for women are available in the form of therapy and aids for lubrication and clitoral stimulation.
Men and sexual dysfunction
Having diabetes doesn’t mean you will automatically develop sexual dysfunction. However, over half of all men with diabetes may be affected, and the possibility of problems increases with age. One of the most common sexual problems is erectile dysfunction (ED or impotence). This is an inability in getting and/or keeping an erection for sexual intercourse.
Most men experience difficulties in achieving an erection at some time in their lives, and 10 per cent have continuing erection problems. ED affects both heterosexual and homosexual men. You may experience sexual dysfunction that is caused by physical factors or the medication you are taking, or both. Emotional and lifestyle factors can also contribute to sexual dysfunction.
It is important to be aware of the some of the links between causes and symptoms so that you can find the most effective help and support. There is now a wide range of treatment options available for men with erection problems.
Diabetes UK Careline: tel: 0345 123 2399*. The Careline can provide confidential support and information on diabetes and related issues. All team members are trained and experienced counsellors.
You may also like to contact the following organisations for information:
- The Sexual Advice Association, Suite 301, Emblem House, London Bridge Hospital, 27 Tooley Street, London, SE1 2PR
Tel: 020 7486 7262
- British Association for Sexual and Relationship Therapy (BASRT), PO Box 13686, London
Tel: 020 8543 2707
- Relate, Central Office, Premier House, Carolina Court, Lakeside, Doncaster
Tel: 0300 100 1234
*Calls to 0345 numbers cost no more than calls to geographic (01 and 02) numbers and must be included in inclusive minutes on mobile phones and discount schemes. Calls from landlines are typically charged between 2p and 10p per minute while calls from mobiles typically cost between 10p and 40p per minute. Calls from landlines and mobiles to 0345 numbers are included in free call packages.
Calls may be recorded for quality and training purposes.