Sex is important and part of some people's relationships. This isn't any different if you have diabetes.
Remember, having diabetes doesn’t always mean you’ll have problems with sex. And if you do, they might not last forever, there are things that can help. Sex and diabetes shouldn't be a cause of worry or anxiety for you.
We’ve got some pointers about the main things that people with diabetes worry about when it comes to sex. In this page we'll look at sex and diabetes in detail.
Blood sugar highs and lows
You might be wondering "What will happen to my blood sugars when I have sex?"
It's important to remember that sex is exercise, so it might make your sugars drop. 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. Make sure you check your blood sugars before you have sex. And it's worth having something sugary nearby just in case, so you can treat a hypo if you need to.
If you use an insulin pump, taking it out before sex might help you to avoid having a hypo. But this doesn’t work for everyone.
Some people with diabetes get very nervous about having hypos. We call this hypo anxiety and if this is familiar to you, and it can affect how you feel about sex. If you've had hypos in the past then it's natural to worry about having them again. Talking to your partner about your fears around sex and diabetes might help. They could even help you plan and prepare in case of a hypo.
Most people will have trouble with sex at some point in their lives, whether they have diabetes or not. Having diabetes doesn’t mean you will have a problem.
Both men and women with diabetes are more likely to have sexual problems than people without diabetes.
What problems could diabetes cause to my sex life?
It is important to know that if you have high blood sugar levels for a long time then it can lead to serious complications. This can include sexual problems which we call sexual dysfunction.
High blood sugar levels can affect your nerves and blood vessels, which we call neuropathy. This means that they can also affect the ones that supply blood to your sexual organs. If this happens, it means that you'll have less blood flow into these areas. This can result in your losing some feeling to your genitals. Losing sensation can mean that becoming aroused physically and emotionally, can be harder. For men, it's called erectile dysfunction, or erectile problems.
Having diabetes can also mean you’re more at risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs), thrush and vaginal dryness.
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.
Lower sex drive or libido
Lots of things can affect how interested you are in having sex. This is is called libido or sex drive and sometimes diabetes can lower your libido. But this isn't necessarily all down to your diabetes.
Being tired, depressed or and having low self-esteem can all affect how much you feel like having sex. As well as any medication you’re taking, or any treatment you’ve had in the past.
The emotions you’re feeling have a big impact too. If you’re feeling embarrassed because of your pump or anxious about having a hypo, this can make you feel like you don’t want to have sex.
It’s not easy coping with all these feelings and emotions. 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, counsellor 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 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 because our helpline has people with counselling skills who are here to listen and help.
If you’re single, you might not want to talk to your sexual partner about sex and diabetes at all. Sharing your feelings with a friend might be better. Do what’s best for you and your diabetes.
If you use an insulin pump, you might have all kinds of questions about how it might affect your sex life. You might be wondering what will happen when you have sex. You might worry that it will get in the way or one of you will pull it out by accident.
Or 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 delivered?
There’s no right answer here, it’s whatever works for you. Jen chats to us about her experiences of having sex with a pump, and what works for her.
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 so 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 with sex and diabetes
You’re not alone. If you're worried or need advice or someone to listen, we’re here to support you. You can call our helpline on 0345 123 2399 and talk to experts in diabetes.
Or join our online forum so you can chat to other people who might be having similar sexual problems as you.
Remember, getting time and support with any sexual problems is one of your essential diabetes checks. This means you have a right to this kind of service as part of your diabetes care and it’s free.