You may have heard about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s prediction that by 2050, one in three Americans could have diabetes. One in ten already do, although many of them haven’t yet been diagnosed. A noticeable increase in thirst is one of the first, best-known signs of diabetes. I’m thinking about another, less-well-known symptom: a decrease in sexual enjoyment.
A recent University of Chicago study found that while women and men with diabetes had sex about as often as their non-diabetic counterparts, both women and men enjoyed it less. Women reported having more difficulty in achieving satisfying orgasms. And, worse, women were less likely to talk about it with a doctor.
It’s difficult, I know, for many women to talk to their doctors about sex to begin with. They might feel more comfortable bringing it up if they understand the connection to diabetes.
It’s a hormone, again, that’s causing the disruption; just not the usual ones we talk about with mid-life sex. This time it’s insulin, which regulates blood sugars. With diabetes, the body is unable to make or respond to insulin. Without treatment, sugar builds up in the blood and a number of functions don’t work normally.
High blood sugar levels can lead to vaginal dryness and painful intercourse. Even if it’s not painful, there’s a good chance that intercourse will be less pleasurable. Eventually, the extra blood sugar damages blood vessels that supply nerves; as those nerve endings become less sensitive, sex becomes more ho-hum. (A similar thing happens to blood vessels in the penis, which can lead to erectile dysfunction for diabetic men.) The more time goes by without treatment, the more damage is done.
If you already know you have diabetes, make sure you’re following your doctor’s advice on controlling your blood sugar through a combination of diet and medication. If you’re experiencing changes in your sexual response, take the initiative to discuss it with your health care provider.
If any of this sounds familiar and you haven’t been diagnosed with diabetes, ask your health care provider about being tested. The sooner you start treatment, the more damage you can delay or avert.
And if you aren’t diabetic, do everything you can to stay that way, especially if you have risk factors like obesity, diabetes in pregnancy, or a family history of diabetes. Eat a healthy diet that’s low in cholesterol, exercise for 30 minutes five days a week, and maintain a healthy weight (a body mass index of under 25). Finally, if you smoke, quit.
If nothing else motivates you to stay healthy—or make healthy changes in your lifestyle—perhaps the thought of better sex will!