Sex is an important part of many people’s relationships, but we’re not always very good at talking about it. If you’re worried that diabetes will affect your sex life, we know it can sometimes be a bit awkward to bring up.
But it’s important to know that having diabetes doesn’t automatically mean you’ll have problems with sex. And if you do, it’s not necessarily going to last forever and there are things that can help.
We’ve put together some pointers about the main things that people with diabetes worry about when it comes to sex, and asked other people to share their experiences and advice too.
Blood sugar highs and lows
Going high or low during or after sex – will it get in the way or stop you enjoying sex? Sex is exercise after all, so it might make your sugars drop. And if you’ve been drinking, depending on when and how much, you’re more likely to have a hypo.
But not everyone with diabetes will have hypos. If you normally check your own blood sugar levels, check them before you have sex. And have something sugary nearby just in case, so you can eat or drink something quickly to treat a hypo if you need to.
If you use an insulin pump, taking it out before sex might prevent you going hypo too. But this doesn’t work for everyone.
Some people with diabetes get very nervous about having hypos. This is called hypo anxiety and if this is familiar to you, it can affect how you feel about sex too. Read our information on hypo anxiety and get advice on what can help.
Sexual problems (sexual dysfunction)
Most people will have sexual difficulties 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 it’s important to know that high sugar levels for a long period of time can cause problems in how you have sex – this is called sexual dysfunction. High sugar levels in your blood can damage your blood vessels and nerves, including the ones that supply your sexual organs. And this can mean less blood flows to your sexual organs, so you lose some sensation. This could mean you have difficulty getting aroused, both physically and in how you feel.
Having diabetes can also mean you’re more at risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs) and thrush.
Sexual problems won’t affect everyone with diabetes, but you should know how to reduce your risk of developing these kinds of problems and how to manage them. We've got information about sexual problems in men and sexual problems in women.
Your feelings about sex
Lots of things can affect our desire to have sex (our sex drive) – some people call this having a low libido. And if you’re having difficulties, it’s not necessarily all down to your diabetes.
Being tired, depressed or and having low self-esteem can all play a part. As well as any medication you’re taking, or any treatment you’ve had in the past.
And the emotions you’re feeling can have a big impact too. If you’re feeling embarrassed because of your pump or because you’re having some other issues, this can be a vicious cycle and make you feel like you don’t want to have sex.
It’s not easy coping with all these feelings, you might wonder how long you’ll feel like this. But there’s support out there and talking to someone about what’s going on can be the first step. Know that you’re not alone. Whether it’s with a partner, friend or your healthcare team – it’s good to talk.
Sex and relationships
If you’re in a relationship, diabetes can sometimes put a strain on it. From looking out for signs of a hypo, to problems in sexual function, there’s more to think about and plan ahead for.
Communication is important in any relationship, and having diabetes doesn’t change this. Talking over any issues and trying to resolve them together can help. Remember that you’re in it together. But if you’re not sure where to begin, there are relationship counselors at Relate that can help you. Or give us a call – our helpline has trained counsellors who are here to listen and give you guidance if you need it.
Insulin pumps and sex
If you use an insulin pump, you might have all kinds of questions about how it might affect your sex life. Will it get in the way? Get pulled out? How do you explain what it is to a new partner? Take it off or leave it on? Put on a temporary basal, which reduces the amount of insulin that’s being delivered? There’s no right answer here, it’s whatever works for you.
Taking your pump off will mean it doesn’t get in the way and you’re less likely to have a hypo. But remember to put it back on again. Leaving it on means your sugars aren’t going to get too high, but on the other hand they might drop too low.
We know diabetes can be a balancing act – try things out and see what works for you. If you’re worried or need more advice, give us a call on our helpline or speak to your healthcare team.
Get more support
You’re not alone. If you're worried or need advice or someone to listen, we’re here to support you and you can talk to trained counselors who are experts in diabetes.
Or join our online forum – where you can chat to other people who might be having similar sexual problems as you. You can ask questions and start discussions, it can help to know you’re not the only one this has happened to.
Talk to your healthcare team. Getting time and support with any sexual problems is one of your essential diabetes checks – meaning you have a right to this kind of service and it’s free.
So whether you’re a man or a woman, if your sex life isn’t what you’d want it to be, remember:
- it isn’t always because of your diabetes
- it isn’t necessarily forever
- there are things that can help.
And most importantly, you’re not the only one this has happened to.