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Diabetes can affect sexual health

An older couple sits on a dock, his arm around her shoulders

People who have diabetes may experience sexual side effects from the disease. But there are a variety of treatment options that can help restore sexual health.

Diabetes can affect your body in unexpected ways. One of these is how your body responds to sexual stimuli.

Men who have diabetes may experience erectile dysfunction (ED). Women may lose interest in sex because they feel tired or because vaginal dryness makes intercourse painful.

Diabetes may also contribute to depression and anxiety, which can reduce desire for sex in both men and women.

But you don't have to give up your sex life because you have diabetes. Keeping the disease under control can reduce your risk of sexual problems. And if problems do occur, there are many ways to treat them, including medicines, medical devices and counseling.

Diabetes and male sexual function

Not every man with diabetes has ED. But men with diabetes are more than three times more likely to experience ED than men who don't have the disease. And they are likely to have the problem as much as 10 to 15 years earlier than men without diabetes, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases reports.

A man with ED may be unable to have or sustain an erection, or may only be able to sustain an erection occasionally.

Men with diabetes may develop ED due to damage to nerves or blood vessels in the penis, or because their blood glucose levels aren't properly controlled. ED may also be related to other serious health conditions often associated with diabetes, such as high blood pressure, or kidney or blood vessel disease.

The best way to find out the reason for ED—and how to treat it—is to talk to your doctor. If ED is caused by diabetes, the American Diabetes Association says treatments may include:

  • Prescription medicine.
  • Hormone-like substances called prostaglandins that can be injected directly into the penis to improve blood flow.
  • A vacuum tube and pump to draw blood into the penis. A band placed around the base of the penis keeps the erection firm after the tube is removed.
  • Surgery to implant a device to aid in erection or to repair blood vessels.

Diabetes may also cause retrograde ejaculation (RE), which causes semen to go into the bladder during ejaculation. RE may cause infertility. Cloudy urine is a sign of RE, which can be treated with medicine. A urologist experienced in fertility treatment can address infertility issues.

Diabetes and female sexual function

Women with diabetes may have sexual problems such as lack of sensation in the genital area or inability to reach orgasm.

These problems should be discussed with your doctor and your partner. Women may also experience:

  • Dryness in the vaginal area caused by damage to nerve cells. Pain or discomfort during sex can be relieved using prescription or over-the-counter vaginal lubricant creams.
  • Hormonal changes before, during and after menstrual periods and during menopause that affect blood glucose levels. Medicines to control blood glucose may need to be adjusted.

Tips for men and women

To lower your risk of sexual problems:

  • Control diabetes through diet and exercise.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol.
  • Keep blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol close to the target numbers that your doctor recommends.
  • Seek counseling to reduce sexual anxiety or to address other issues, such as everyday stress or inability to talk with your partner about sex. Therapy often works best when your sex partner is included.

Reviewed 9/22/2021

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