Sex is good for everyone. It's good for your heart and blood flow, helps sleep, and boosts your mood. On the contrary having Diabetes is a problem to have good for sex, though. Nerve damage, or neuropathy, can make it hard to have orgasms. It can cause vaginal dryness, make it hard to get aroused, dampen your desire, and make sex painful. Bruising from shots and fears about blood sugar dropping can zap your self-esteem in the bedroom. And if you wear an insulin pump, where does it fit in?
All of these issues are solvable, experts say. "Many times I've heard people say, 'I'm done with sex,'" says Janis Roszler, RD, a diabetes educator and co-author of Sex and Diabetes . "It's sad because there's so much that can be done."
As with most diabetes problems, chronic high blood sugar is often the cause of sexual side effects. So keeping them under control is No. 1. But even if you have tight control of your blood sugar, you can face some sexual challenges. Here are some common problems and ways to get the best of them.
Dealing With Vaginal Dryness
For women, vaginal dryness is the most common sexual side effect of diabetes. Emotional issues such as being depressed can cause it. So can damage to the nerves that lubricate your vagina.
You can also get vaginal dryness from yeast infections caused by long-term high blood sugar. If you are older, menopause and swings in your hormones may also play a role.
If you have symptoms of a yeast infection, such as vaginal itching, burning, or pain during intercourse or when you urinate, using an over-the-counter antifungal drug on the area may help. But speak to your doctor first.
For other vaginal dryness, water-based vaginal lubricants can help. Some may also boost your sexual desire. If you are trying to conceive, though, ask your doctor for advice on choosing a lubricant. Some can hinder sperm and make it harder to get pregnant.
"Estrogen replacement, including vaginal estrogen, can be helpful in postmenopausal women," says Vivian Fonseca, MD, of the Tulane University School of Medicine. Vaginal estrogen replacement comes in a cream or ring. You and your doctor can weigh the risks and benefits for you. Your doctor may also suggest other creams if sex is painful during menopause.
Problems With Sex Drive and Orgasm
Problems getting in the mood -- whether it's because you have less interest in sex or problems having orgasms -- are more common. They can also be more complex if you have diabetes.
Poor blood sugar control can drag down your sex drive. So can depression, which is more common in women than in men. Some drugs used to treat depression may also dampen your desire.
If you've been depressed or anxious for more than a couple of weeks, talk to your doctor. Counseling, drugs, or learning how to lower stress can help. If you are already taking a depression drug and think it may be bringing down your interest in sex, talk to your doctor. You may be able to find one that is less likely to cause sexual side effects.
You may need more time and stimulation to climax when you have diabetes. Whether the cause is nerve damage or emotional issues, make foreplay part of sex, if it isn't already. Oral sex, sex toys, stroking, and cuddling can help arouse women and men, especially as you age. "Self-stimulation, or masturbation, can also help a woman get to know her body better," Roszler says.
If you can't climax because you have a lot of nerve damage, counseling can help you learn to enjoy sex without orgasm.
4 Tips for Better Sex
These tips can help keep your sex life strong with Diabetes:
A little alcohol may boost your desire, but drinking can also make your blood sugar level drop quickly. If you drink alcohol, stick with one drink. Have it with a meal or snack to limit its effects on your blood sugar.
Be honest with your partner.
Trying to deny or hide your diabetes only makes you less at ease during sex, Sparling says. When she was dating, she made a point of getting to know boyfriends well before she got intimate with them, and they got to know her -- and her pump. "I never had a partner reject me because of diabetes," she says. "If anything, it brought us closer together."
Nurture your relationship.
Little things like taking walks, working out with your partner, or even doing chores for each other help keep your romantic life fresh and loving, Roszler says. On the other hand, if you neglect your love life, it may damage other parts of your life together. "When couples have difficulty in the bedroom, it spreads throughout their relationship," she says. "If you're angry with your partner, you're less likely to do things to take care of him or her."
If you are uneasy talking to your doctor about sex, ask for a referral to a women's health specialist or a doctor with expertise in sexual issues. "If you don't get the answers or help you need, don't give up, you can have a great sex life with diabetes."