Diabetes and sex

Hypos

If you have particularly active sex it can affect your body the same way that exercise does. Your body’s uptake of glucose is higher, which can lead to low glucose/sugars and a hypo. Be aware of this and what your body may need before having sex. Keeping diabetes well managed for as long as possible, as early as possible, can help to reduce this as an issue.

New partners

A new sexual partner does not necessarily need to know all the details about diabetes, but sex may feel more enjoyable and you may both feel more comfortable if they have an idea about diabetes, particularly about what may happen and what you will need if you experience a hypo. You can let them know that this is not unusual and that you may just need some time to manage it.

Thrush

Genital thrush is a yeast infection which can be uncomfortable and unpleasant and may cause sex to feel painful. One of the main causes of thrush is high glucose levels, so aiming for lower glucose and some stability, as best you can, will help prevent thrush. Thrush can easily be treated with creams and pessaries from the pharmacy or GP in the short-term. Remember thrush can be sexually transmitted so it’s important to make sure that you do not pass it on.

Sexual difficulties

Problems with sexual response are a common experience for both men and women with diabetes; both physical and psychological factors can play a part in affecting the quality of physical intimacy. Men with Type 1 diabetes may have problems with erections not being hard enough or lasting long enough (particularly if diabetes is long-standing or associated with other problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease and/or low testosterone). Nerve damage and reduced sensation from longstanding type 1 diabetes can lead to problems with erectile dysfunction for men, and failure to achieve orgasm for both men and women. Putting energy into managing diabetes as early as possible, and for as long as possible, helps to reduce the potential for these difficulties. There are, of course, many factors other than diabetes which can lead to sexual difficulties, including stress, anxiety, alcohol, smoking, nerve damage caused by operation, high blood pressure and a number of other factors.  

Getting help and advice

It can feel embarrassing to talk about sex and/or sexual difficulties.  You’re not alone, healthcare professionals are used to having these conversations and will understand that this is important to you. From their viewpoint, this is just another aspect of diabetes care. If you can find a way to start the conversation with an opening line, such as,:

“I’m having some issues around sex” or

“I’m having some personal issues at times of intimacy”

they are likely to guide the conversation for you from there in a sensitive way to provide the information and help you need.

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