Women, Sex and Diabetes:
Are You Suffering in Silence?
Diabetes impacts over 9 million U.S. women, 3 million of whom have not been diagnosed. Along with increasing the risk of heart attack, miscarriages, yeast infections, eye and nerve damage, and more, diabetes increases the risk of sexual problems — a largely unspoken problem among women.
Diabetes increases the risk of sexual problems in women, but many are too embarrassed to bring the issue up with their doctors.
Sexual dysfunction is a topic most often associated with men, and while men with diabetes are more likely to lose interest in sex or experience erectile dysfunction, women with diabetes are also more likely to have sexual side effects.
How Does Diabetes Impact a Woman’s Sexual Health?
When you have type 2 diabetes, your cells become resistant to insulin, a hormone that helps lower the amount of sugar in your bloodstream after you eat. This results in sugar building up in your bloodstream, a potentially dangerous condition.
If left untreated or uncontrolled, numerous complications can develop, many of which can impact your sex life.
For instance, women with diabetes are much more likely to suffer from depression than women without the condition, and this can take away your desire for sex, as can feelings of anxiety about the condition.
Diabetes also makes it more difficult for women to achieve orgasm. In one study in the journal Diabetes, 35 percent of women with diabetes were unable to have an orgasm during intercourse, compared to 6 percent of those without the disease.
Other studies have found that women with diabetes are more likely to report:
- Inhibited sexual excitement, inhibited sexual desire and dyspareunia (pain during intercourse)
- Dysfunction of sexual desire, arousal and orgasm
- Decreased vaginal lubrication, which can result from high blood sugar levels and impact orgasm as well make sex uncomfortable or painful
- Yeast infections and urinary tract infections
High blood sugar levels actually lead to numerous disruptions that can impact your ability to have a healthy sex life. Aside from decreasing vaginal lubrication, uncontrolled blood glucose can lead to nerve damage that makes it difficult for women to experience sexual stimulation (and also leads to erectile dysfunction in men).
Nerve damage, including peripheral neuropathy, is common in people with diabetes, but most often is associated with foot numbness and tingling. However, damage can also occur to nerves in the pelvis, which are necessary for sexual stimulation.
So there are both psychological and physical issues that can interfere with diabetic women’s sexual health, but one fact is certain: it can take a serious toll on your quality of life.
Researchers in the journal Diabetes Spectrum explain:
“Our study revealed that in diabetic women, sexual dysfunction was related to lower marital satisfaction, more symptoms of depression, negative appraisal of diabetes, poorer emotional adjustment to diabetes, higher impact of diabetes treatment on daily life, and low satisfaction with treatment.”
Controlling, or Reversing, Diabetes Can Help Relieve Sexual Problems
Often, making positive changes to your diet and exercise routine can help relieve diabetes and its sexual side effects in both men and women.
Type 2 diabetes is in large part a “man-made” disease, caused by poor diet and lack of exercise. In fact, the “deadly diabetes duo” is eating processed foods full of refined carbs (wheat flour, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, etc.) along with not exercising.
A simple anti-diabetes diet is to focus your meals on lean, high-quality proteins, fresh vegetables and other real foods like nuts, olive oil, eggs and dairy. You will want to avoid sugar and also grains, especially wheat (including in bread, pasta, crackers, etc.), as much as possible, as these foods will cause your blood sugar to spike and remain high.
Exercise, meanwhile, helps to lower your blood sugar naturally, no insulin required, which is in many ways a “cure” for diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, exercise improves blood glucose management by making you more sensitive to the insulin you make, as well as burning glucose (calories), both of which lower blood glucose levels.
In fact, according to a study from researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia, exercise can prevent and fight type 2 diabetes in as little as 15 minutes a day!
“Many people can fight type II diabetes through diet and exercise alone,” John Thyfault, professor in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences’ Department of Nutritional Sciences, told Science Daily. ” … Exercise has proven to be effective at all levels. At any stage of type II diabetes, from an obese child to a person dependent for 20 years on insulin injections, exercise could have a dramatic effect on improving insulin sensitivity.”
In the study, diabetic rats had significantly increased insulin sensitivity in certain muscles following acute muscle activity. The findings, researchers say, would likely translate to people as well.
“In relation to a person with type II diabetes, this would mean that they could lessen their dependence on insulin therapy to control their blood glucose levels or potentially control glucose levels without any drug by just increasing their daily activity levels in addition to the right diet,” Thyfault told Science Daily.
Other studies, too, have found exercise benefits diabetics. In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, those who exercised using aerobic activities and resistance training had improved blood sugar control, and the Diabetes Prevention Program, which involved people with pre-diabetes, showed that just 30 minutes of exercise five times a week helped prevent or delay type 2 diabetes.
The effects of exercise are truly significant. In 2001, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study of over 3,200 Americans at high risk of diabetes found that walking 30 minutes a day and losing a bit of weight cut diabetes risk in half!
So if you want to get your diabetes under control, or prevent the disease if you don’t already have it, regular exercise coupled with a whole-food diet is just the ticket. And this will also be key in helping you to get your sex life back on track, too.
Remember to Talk to Your Doctor
If you’re a woman with diabetes who is struggling with sexual problems, please do not suffer in silence.
In one study by researchers at the University of Chicago Medical Center, only 19 percent of women with diabetes had discussed sexual problems with a doctor, compared with 47 percent of men, yet women with diabetes were more likely than men to cease all sexual activity.
You needn’t miss out on this necessary and enjoyable aspect of life, so please bring up any sexual concerns you have with your health practitioner at your next appointment. Also, remember that commitment to a healthy lifestyle, including exercise and a fresh foods diet, will not only help to keep diabetes away, but will help you experience a more fulfilling sex life as well.