Diabetes Type 2

Sexual problems

Many people with diabetes type 2 will experience sexual problems. According to Diabetes UK, more than half of men with diabetes may be affected and the possibility of problems increases with age. Female sexual dysfunction (FSD) is thought to be twice as common in women with diabetes. Diabetes in men can cause erectile dysfunction (ED) or impotence. Some men may experience ED before they know they have diabetes, but generally it tends to occur later as the disease progresses.

Sexual dysfunction in men means that they cannot get and/or maintain an erection. In women it means that they lose desire, suffer from vaginal dryness or experience pain during sex and cannot reach orgasm. Sexual dysfunction is more likely to occur when someone's blood glucose levels are not being well controlled which means that nerves and nerve endings become damaged and physical sensations are reduced. 

It is not always possible for doctors to know exactly what causes erectile dysfunction; it may be the result of diabetes or other health conditions such as hyperthyroidism. Also, some medications such as beta blockers which slow the heart rate may affect the ability to have erections.

Sexual dysfunction in men and women with diabetes may also happen when someone is depressed about how diabetes is affecting their lives. Several people said that diabetes had affected their self-confidence and caused depression and mood swings.

Most men said they were not as yet having any problems about sex, but felt that if they did experience ED it would be a serious worry for them that could well affect their relationship with their partners but would also affect their sense of masculinity. Those men who admitted to having experienced ED at some time said that even though their masculinity was affected it would probably not diminish their long-term relationship with their partners.

Very few men had ever discussed the possibility of sexual dysfunction with anyone face-to-face, including the GP. Most men took the view that as long as everything was going fine they didn't particularly want to talk about ED, and that they hoped they would never have any sexual problems. Some men said they only knew about erectile dysfunction because they had read about it on the internet, or in articles in the media. One man said he first read about ED in Balance, a magazine produced by Diabetes UK. A few men had attended lectures that had mentioned erectile dysfunction at a diabetes support group.

People approached sexual dysfunction in different ways, and not everyone had yet discussed the problem with their partners. Those who had experienced ED on several occasions and had gone to the GP for advice, were pleased to discover that something could be done to help. One man had changed his anti-diabetes medication, and another had been prescribed Viagra (sildenafil). 

Last reviewed March 2016.

Last updated March 2016.

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