Having high sugar levels for a long period of time can cause problems in how you have sex – called sexual dysfunction.
Most people will have sexual problems at some point in their lives, whether they have diabetes or not. And having diabetes doesn’t mean you will automatically have a problem. But people with diabetes are more at risk of sexual dysfunction (problems when you have sex). It's one of the complications of diabetes, and happens because of high blood sugar levels, as well as high blood pressure and blood fats (cholesterol).
Having high sugar levels for a period of time can damage your blood vessels and nerves, including the ones that supply your penis. This can restrict the amount of blood flowing to your sexual organs, so you can lose some sensation. This could mean you have difficulty getting aroused, both physically and in how you feel.
Sex can be an important part of our lives, but it's something we still struggle to talk about. Getting the time and support to talk about sexual problems with a healthcare professional is one of your 15 essential healthcare checks. This the care and support you’re entitled to, so if you’re not getting this type of care and you need it, don’t be afraid to ask your healthcare team. They’re here to help.
Here we’ll take you through some types of sexual problems in men. This information can help you manage any problems you may have now, or reduce your risk of developing them in the future. And if you're looking for information about sexual problems in women, we've got that too.
The most common type of sexual problem in men is erectile dysfunction (sometimes known as impotence). This is when you can’t get or keep an erection – early signs could be if you start to lose your morning erection.
Men with diabetes are 3x more likely to have trouble getting or keeping an erection.
There can be several reasons for this, such as limited blood flow, nerve damage (neuropathy) and damaged blood vessels. It can also be down to medication or just how you’re feeling at the time.
You can get treatment for this with pills like Viagra and Cialis, but talk to your healthcare team before taking these, as they can cause heart problems.
You could also think about therapy or counselling to help you manage erectile dysfunction. It can be a useful tool, whatever the cause of the problem. And we've got support to help you too – you're not alone.
Diabetes is far from the only cause of erectile dysfunction, so it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. It happens to almost every man at some point in their life, and is also commonly caused by ageing, drugs or alcohol.
Thrush is a fungal infection and more common in women – but men can get it too.
It’s not a sexually transmitted infection (STI) but it can be passed on during sex. Anyone can get it, but if you have diabetes and your sugars run high, you’re more likely to. That’s because a lot of sugar in your urine provides a perfect breeding ground for the bacteria that causes thrush to grow.
Thrush can cause the tip of the penis or under the foreskin to be sore or itchy. And you might notice discharge or find it hard to pull your foreskin back. White patches on the head of your penis is also a common symptom. If you notice these signs, speak to your doctor.
You can avoid getting thrush by keeping your blood sugars as close to your target range as possible, keeping your genitals clean (but don’t use perfumed shower gels), and avoiding tight underwear or trousers.
You’re no more likely to get an STI if you’ve got diabetes.
You might get an STI if you have sex with someone who’s got one, if you don’t use a condom. But rest assured, diabetes doesn’t have anything to do with it.
You might not know you’ve got an STI because some of them don’t give you many symptoms. So use protection and there’s much less chance you’ll get one. Talk to your healthcare team if you have any questions or need advice on what kind of protection you should choose.
Urinary tract infection (UTI)
This is when the tubes that run from your kidneys to your bladder (urinary tract) get infected. UTI’s aren’t sexually transmitted but having sex is one way that gut bacteria can get into your urinary tract.
UTIs are more common in women, but men can get them too. And if your sugars are running high, you’re more likely to get one. That’s because a lot of sugar in your urine provides a perfect breeding ground for bacteria to grow.
Symptoms of a UTI include:
- a high temperature, chills or feeling shivery
- pain in your back or sides
- feeling or being sick
- feeling confused or restless.
You can avoid getting a UTI by keeping your blood sugar as close to your target as you can. As well as that, drink plenty of fluids and don’t hold on to your pee if you need to go to the toilet.
Speak to your healthcare team for more information and advice about avoiding UTIs.
How you’re feeling can have a big impact on how you have sex too. If you’re feeling embarrassed or worried about a sexual problem, this can be really difficult and make you feel like you don’t want to or can’t have sex.
If you feel comfortable, talk to your healthcare team for more advice and support. Or if you'd rather talk over the phone, our helpline is managed by advisors with counselling skills who are ready to answer your questions or just listen. Whatever you need, you're not alone.
We’ve also got more information about the kinds of things people with diabetes told us they think about when it comes to sex and diabetes. With tips on what can help and who you can talk to.