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Diabetes and Female Sexual Satisfaction | Sex Health Blog

Aug 23, 2012

We often hear about how diabetes affects a man’s sex life. Erectile dysfunction is common among male diabetics and it gets a lot of attention. But how about women? How does diabetes affect their sexuality?

There hasn’t been as much research on sexual health for women with diabetes, but a recent study published this summer in Obstetrics and Gynecology sheds some light. Among 2,270 participants between the ages of 40 and 80:

  • About 19% of women without diabetes said they were unsatisfied with sex. But this number increased to almost 35% of diabetic women treated with insulin and 26% of diabetic women who didn’t take insulin.
  • Women who took insulin were 2.37 times more likely to have problems with vaginal lubrication and they were 1.8 times more likely to have orgasmic issues.
  • Complications of diabetes, such as heart disease, stroke, kidney problems, and peripheral neuropathy (problems with nerves) also contributed to sexual problems for diabetic women.

What are some specific sexual issues diabetic women face? And what can they do?  Let’s take a look.

Sexual Issues for Diabetic Women

There are many ways diabetes and blood sugar levels can affect a woman’s sex life:

  • Poor lubrication. Lubrication, or wetness in the vagina, is important for a woman’s sexual comfort and enjoyment. Unfortunately, high blood sugar levels can lead to vaginal dryness, making sex uncomfortable or even painful.
     
  • Decreased desire and arousal. High blood sugar can cause nerve damage in different parts of the body, including the genitals.Blood circulation to the genitals can also be affected, which may make sex – or the anticipation of it – less pleasurable and exciting.
     
  • Discomfort. Diabetic women are more susceptible to yeast infections, especially when their blood sugar is high. The vagina already provides a warm, moist environment for yeast growth. Higher blood sugar spurs this growth even more, leaving vaginal tissue irritated and making intercourse uncomfortable.
     
  • Stress, depression, and anxiety. Managing diabetes is a challenge. Regular blood sugar testing, adjusting diets, and taking insulin can bring about enormous amounts of stress or make a woman feel depressed or anxious. These feelings are hard to shut off in the bedroom and can sap a woman’s desire for sex.

What can diabetic women do?

Fortunately, many sexual issues for diabetic women can be treated. The following suggestions might help:

  • Talk to your doctor. Some women feel uncomfortable discussing sex with their doctors. But remember - your sexual health is an important part of your overall health. Your doctor can suggest strategies for the particular issue you’re having. For example, if you’re experiencing vaginal dryness, your doctor may recommend a particular lubricant. The answer to your problem may be a simple lifestyle change. It’s worth asking, so don’t hesitate.
     
  • Talk to your partner. Sexual problems that stem from diabetes can be confusing for you and your partner. If you feel that diabetes is affecting your sex life, talk about it. Chances are, your partner will be understanding. If anything, being open about it can reduce some of the tension that may affect your sexual relations.
     
  • Keep your diabetes under control. It may be tempting to “cheat” every once in awhile, but deviating from your diet can cause havoc to your blood sugar. Be sure to take your medications, and insulin if necessary, exactly as prescribed. Follow your doctor’s dietary recommendations. If you notice any changes in how you feel or in your blood sugar measurements, discuss them with your doctor promptly.

    Remember, too, that hormonal changes during your menstrual cycle and menopause can make your blood sugar levels rise and fall. Your doctor can help you determine how to handle these fluctuations.
     
  • Make lifestyle changes. Some changes are easier said than done, of course. It’s simple to say “reduce your stress.” But taking time for you, figuring out the best way to manage your diabetes, and maintaining healthy diet and exercise habits can help you feel better overall and make intimacy more pleasurable. Try talking to other people with diabetes. They may have lifestyle tips you haven’t thought of.
     
  • Consider counseling. As we discussed earlier, it’s not always easy to manage diabetes. You want to be sure you’re doing what’s best for your body. You might be worried about what the future holds. You might feel depressed that intimacy with your partner isn’t what it used to be. Sometimes we all need a little help. A qualified counselor can help you work through these feelings. You might also consider seeing a sex therapist who can help you and your partner reconnect after sexual difficulties. If you’re comfortable with the idea, ask your partner to go with you.  

It may take some time to get your sex life back on track. Sometimes, we need to try different strategies before we discover what works best for us. Try to keep your spirits up and the lines of communication open. You might find that your sex life becomes even better, even with diabetes.

Resources
American Diabetes Association
“Sexual Health”
http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/women/sexual-health.html

The Atlantic
Abrams, Lindsay
“Study: Diabetic Women Experience Decreased Sexual Satisfaction”
(July 30, 2012)
http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/07/study-diabetic-women-experience-decreased-sexual-satisfaction/260431/

Everyday Health
Vroomen-Durning, Marijke, RN
“Type 2 Diabetes and Yeast Infections”
(Last updated: April 16, 2009)
http://www.everydayhealth.com/type-2-diabetes/type-2-diabetes-and-yeast-infections.aspx

MedicineNet.com
“Sex, Urinary, and Bladder Problems of Diabetes”
(Last reviewed: December 6, 2011)
http://www.medicinenet.com/sexual_and_urologic_problems_of_diabetes/article.htm

MedPage Today
Fiore, Kristina
“Diabetic Women Less Satisfied with Sex”
(July 27, 2012)
http://www.medpagetoday.com/endocrinology/diabetes/33945

Obstetrics and Gynecology
Copeland, Kelli L., BA et al.
“Diabetes Mellitus and Sexual Function in Middle-Aged and Older Women”
(Abstract.  August 2012)
http://journals.lww.com/greenjournal/abstract/2012/08000/diabetes_mellitus_and_sexual_function_in.21.aspx

WebMD
Bouchez, Colette
“Women, Sex, and Diabetes”
(Reviewed on July 28, 2011)
http://diabetes.webmd.com/features/women-sex-and-diabetes

Photo
Good Morning Katya
By flickr user Rob Borden
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