This leaflet is provided by Diabetes UK, the leading charity that cares for, connects with and campaigns on behalf of every person affected by, or at risk of diabetes.
Encountering problems with sexual response is a common experience for both men and women with diabetes. Diabetes can affect your sexual wellbeing from a physical perspective, and there can also be psychological factors that interfere with a full and rewarding sex life. Problems with sexual function can be very distressing, and affect the quality of your life as well as your relationships. This guide offers some strategies to help you.
What are sexual difficulties?
Male sexual problems (such as erectile dysfunction) and female difficulties (such as a dry vagina, yeast infections and loss of sensation) are common. Emotional factors may affect your intimate relationships too - stress, low mood, anxiety/worry, conflict, bereavement, illness, previous experience of abuse, infertility, religious and cultural issues surrounding sexuality, can all have an impact.
How to manage the physical side of sexual difficulties
The first step is to have a physical examination by your GP and take advantage of medical aids that may be available. Other guidelines for improving sexual response for both men and women are weight loss, cutting down on cigarettes and alcohol, improving glucose control or changing some of your medicines. If the sexual difficulty coincided with a sudden worsening of your glucose control or with starting a different drug, it is important to look at these factors
How to manage the emotional impact of sexual difficulties
Enjoyment of the sexual experience involves a whole range of factors, including your past experiences of sex, your appearance, your confidence physically, sexually and so on. Early traumatic experiences involving sex and negative beliefs about sex inherited from family/cultural values and attitudes can hinder the sexual experience. 'Sensate Focus' can help both men and women overcome these and increase your confidence in your own body. The aim of Sensate Focus is to learn new ways to be intimate with your partner that do not focus on erection or orgasm. It allows you to get out of the trap of the topic of sex feeling conflictual, and helps you renew your enjoyment in your own and each other's bodies. Please see the link to the 'Diabetes in the Bedroom' resource at the end of this leaflet for a free self-help guide to Sensate Focus.
Other aspects of sexual relationships
In addition to working specifically on the sexual aspects of your relationship, it is important to attend to other elements of a loving relationship.
Allow time each day to really communicate with one another. Even 10 minutes a day is a great start. Truly listen to what is being said and empathise as much as you can. Attend to their body language and do not offer solutions or try to problem-solve unless explicitly asked to.
Hurts and conflicts that are unvoiced are toxic to a relationship. A mirroring can occur; if conflict isn't expressed in reality, sexual intimacy may not be expressed in the bedroom.
Set goals of spending romantic time together
Life is really busy, and it can be difficult to fit in quality time to relate with each other. It is therefore important to make a specific date to do this. Plan to have a relative or friend watch the children and decide what you would like to do: have a meal, go for a coffee, see a film, have a walk in the park, or even just stay at home with a DVD, but with no distractions and the phone turned off.
Other ways of giving love
We all give and receive love in a multitude of different ways and demonstrating our love is an important way of showing our feelings. Think about compliments, gifts, time spent together, doing a chore so your loved one doesn't have to etc.
Raise your self-esteem
Low self-esteem can affect you in the bedroom. Remind yourself of your strengths regularly, and seek guidance from a counsellor or therapist if you need support in this area.
- Nash, J. (2016). Diabetes in the Bedroom
- Gary Chapman (1992). The Five Love Languages. Moody, Chicago, IL
- Vicki Ford (2005). Overcoming Sexual Problems. Constable and Robinson, London
- Nash, J. (2013). Diabetes and Wellbeing: Managing the Emotional Impact of Diabetes. Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex
Content used with permission from the Diabetes UK - Sex & Diabetes. Copyright for this leaflet is with Diabetes UK.