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Diabetes and Sexual Dysfunction

Instructor: Sharon Linde
People with diabetes have a lot to think about concerning their health. An often overlooked issue is healthy sexual relations. How does diabetes impact sexual function? Read on for details.

Defining Diabetes

Diabetes is a disease many people across the world suffer from. In fact, you may even know someone who has diabetes, such as a family member or friend. Diabetes is a disease that causes the body to be unable to regulate blood sugar levels. In other words, those with diabetes have too much or too little glucose in their blood.

Diabetes can be categorized in three ways:

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age but is typically diagnosed between birth and 30 years of age. The body of those suffering from type 1 diabetes destroys insulin-creating cells in the pancreas, requiring them to use insulin to control and regulate blood sugar levels.

Type 2 Diabetes

Unlike type 1 diabetes, type 2 is usually found in those over 40, though it does occasionally occur in younger patients. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin. Type 2 patients can often control their disease with proper diet and exercise. Sometimes medications are used; for a small percentage, insulin is necessary.

Gestational Diabetes

Women who are pregnant may experience gestational diabetes. Typically, gestational diabetes is resolved after giving birth.

Diabetes has some serious side effects, regardless of type. One such side effect is sexual dysfunction. Let's take a look at what that means.

What is Sexual Dysfunction?

Like the name implies, sexual dysfunction is difficulty or problems performing sexual acts. It can occur at any time during the sexual response cycle, which includes excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution. Sexual dysfunction may be experienced by both women and men.

The most common sexual dysfunction in men is impotence, or an erectile dysfunction that prohibits the male from getting or keeping an erection at least once out of four attempts. Females can also have sexual dysfunction in the form of physical issues, such as lack of sex drive or lubrication, or psychological issues, such as low self-esteem. How does diabetes impact sexual function?

Diabetes-Related Sexual Dysfunction in Men

How are men with diabetes impacted in relation to sex? Current statistics show that more than one-third of the men with diabetes experience impotence. One reason is that diabetes can be responsible for nerve damage to the genitals. This then can interrupt the ability to maintain an erection due to blocked blood flow. Though most common in long-term diabetes sufferers, patients with sub-symptoms, like obesity and high blood pressure, are more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction.

Men with diabetes may also experience what is called retrograde ejaculation, or ejaculation that reverses into the bladder instead of being discharged.

Diabetes-Related Sexual Dysfunction in Women

Like men, women with diabetes also suffer from sexual dysfunction as a result of their disease. Fewer women than men, just about one-third, have symptoms of sexual dysfunction. Women with diabetes-related sexual dysfunction often have reduced sex drive or pleasure during sex. They are also often unable to produce adequate lubrication, or complain of pain during intercourse. Finally, many women with diabetes say they aren't able to feel physical sensations in their sexual organs and report fewer experiences of orgasm. These physical symptoms can mostly be blamed on diabetes-related nerve damage.

Women with diabetes also have many psychological issues surrounding sex, such as lower self-esteem or feeling less attractive. They may worry about weight or suffer from depression. Worrying about managing diabetes may cause anxiety or result in negative feelings about their bodies.

Concerns for Both Men and Women

As we saw with both men and women, nerve damage due to diabetes plays a big role in sexual dysfunction. In fact, those with diabetes complications report a large increase in sexual dysfunction due to nerve damage.

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