Diabetes and Sexual Intimacy

Sexual intimacy is an important part of life. For people with diabetes, it's necessary to pay close attention to issues concerning their sexual health. That's because damage to the nerves or blood vessels caused by diabetes can interfere with sexual function. So can certain medications used to treat diabetes-related complications. By discussing these issues with your health care provider, you can continue to enjoy this part of your lifestyle.

Men's sexual concerns

Diabetes can damage the blood vessels and nerves of the penis. This damage can lead to erectile dysfunction (ED), the inability to get or sustain an erection. Diabetes also increases the risk for depression, which can contribute to ED. In addition, ED may be a side effect from certain medications used to treat high blood pressure and heartburn resulting from gastroparesis--a diabetes-related stomach condition. Men with diabetes are three times more likely than those without it to have ED. They also tend to develop the problem at a younger age.

When ED is linked to nerve damage caused by diabetes, treatment options include pills, medicine inserted into the penis, a vacuum tube and pump, or surgery to implant a device inside the penis. Surgery can also be done to repair blood vessels in the area.

Women's sexual concerns

Nerve damage and reduced blood flow in the vagina can lead to dryness. This, in turn, can cause discomfort during sexual activity. Depression may also interfere with sexual desire and response that some women experience and make it difficult to talk about. Vaginal lubricant creams may help with dryness. Your provider might recommend changes in position or Kegel exercises to strengthen muscles in the pelvic area to improve sexual response.

Talking with your doctor

If you feel uncomfortable talking about problems with your sexual health, remember that your health care provider has helped many people with diabetes resolve these issues. He or she can also recommend treatment options for depression. If you're not sure how to talk about these issues, try saying that you have a personal question you'd like to ask. Together, you and your provider can find a solution.


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