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Author: Terri D’Arrigo
Source: Diabetes Forecast, September 2006


Having Diabetes Doesn’t Mean The End Of Your Sex Life – Here Are A Few Tips To Help You Keep Intimacy Alive


Control Your Blood Glucose. The experts say they can’t emphasize this enough. If you’re newly diagnosed, take tight control of your blood glucose right from the start. In addition to its immediate effect on your energy and desire, high blood glucose causes nerve damage and blood vessel damage over the long run. Several studies have shown that tight blood glucose control can lessen the risk of all diabetes-related complications.


Exercise. “Exercising and feeling stronger and more fit can make you feel better about your body,” says Virginia Valentine, CNS, BC, ADM, CDE, CEO and clinical specialist at Diabetes Network, Inc., in Albuquerque.


Exercise can also have a direct effect on your physical response, especially if you’re a man, says Allen D. Seftel, MD, professor of urology at Case Western Reserve University and the University Hospital of Cleveland. “One study found that men who were on a strict diet and exercise program not only lost more weight, but they also had better erectile function than those who did not follow such a program,” he says.


Have Your Hormones Checked. Men should have their testosterone level checked, says Seftel. “Diabetes has been associated with low testosterone levels, and that can cause both a loss of sex drive and mild depressive symptoms.” Although it’s less common, women may also have low testosterone levels. For both men and women, testosterone replacement therapy may be an option.


The big hormonal question for women is menopause, says Valentine. Menopause can affect blood glucose, which will affect energy and desire.


But menopause can also affect a woman’s desire and enjoyment of sex independently. Hormone replacement therapy may help.


Check Your Other Medications. Certain medications for conditions that often occur along with diabetes can affect your ability to respond to sexual stimulation or reach orgasm. These include certain antidepressants and blood pressure medications. Treatment may be as simple as switching to another kind of medication.


Take Your Time. It may take more foreplay to become aroused and reach orgasm, says Carolyn M. Grubb, MA, CDE, RD, LD, nutrition consultant and diabetes educator at Carolyn M. Grubb, Inc., in Austin. “Giving pleasure and being close without the sexual pressure to perform can increase intimacy, result in more success in the long run, and strengthen your relationship.”


Work With Your Partner. Communicating with your partner is crucial to a successful sexual relationship, says Janis Roszler, RD, CDE, radio host and coauthor of Living And Loving With Diabetes (Surrey Books, 2004). Sexual issues are not men’s issues or women’s issues. They’re couple’s issues,” she says. “It’s okay to blame the diabetes when things happen, like lows or erectile dysfunction.”


With the right planning and communication, you and your partner can work around your diabetes and enjoy a fulfilling, satisfying sexual relationship.


Question: I have a great relationship, but I just haven’t been in the mood lately. What gives?


Answer: It could be your blood glucose. “High blood glucose can make you feel like you’re walking around through syrup,” says Valentine. “It can sap your energy and make it so you don’t feel like doing anything, much less be intimate.”


Diabetes can take its toll on your self-image, she adds. There may be a feeling of not being normal, and that can affect your willingness and ability to participate in intimate relationships.


Depression may also be a culprit. There is a link between diabetes and depression, and depression will clobber your libido, says Roszler. In fact, loss of desire actually may be a symptom of depression. If you have signs of depression that last more than two weeks, talk to your doctor.


In fact, your doctor can be a helpful resource when it comes to answering a range of sex-related questions, so when in doubt, just ask.


“Patients and doctors alike are sometimes embarrassed to talk about sex, so they leave it until the end of the doctor’s visit, when there’s no time left,” says Roszler. “However, if you bring it up at the beginning and say something like, ‘I have something personal to talk about,’ believe me, your doctor will know.” Then you can discuss your concerns openly.