Sexuality and Diabetes: Is it possible to have a normal sex life while living with Diabetes?
Susana Barcena Gaona
PhD in Health Psychology
The median age is one of the most interesting times in one’s life. Physical energy as well as accumulated experience allow for full development at an individual, economic, family and social level. In the sexual arena, relations are also favored, as the haste and fear of adolescence disappear. Therefore, a Diabetes diagnosis at this age can greatly affect normal development of any of the different roles that may emerge. However, as will be seen below, this doesn’t have to be the case.
To understand how Diabetes can affect sexuality, first we need to explain how the sexual response works, beginning with desire. Seeing, smelling, touching, hearing and kissing one’s partner sets off a series of thoughts and fantasies that lead to the excitement phase; during this time blood floods the genital area causing the penis to grow; the vulva to dilate and vagina to lubricate. This then triggers a phase of greater excitement, muscles tense up, body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure increase. Men feel pressure and heat in the pelvis; in women breasts grow, the vagina expands and vascular congestion increases in the labia minora. A sense of tension appears which is released with the orgasm. Both in men and women the orgasm entails intense pleasure and contractions in the genital area as well as ejaculation (which is more common in men than in women). Everything ends when the body returns to normal (resolution phase), in man the refractory period appears as a signal that they can’t get excited again immediately.
In the sexual response different organs and systems intervene, which can be affected by the presence of Diabetes. For example, high blood glucose levels cause fatigue, which can undermine the sexual desire. Also, Diabetes affects blood supply preventing it from reaching the genitals, making it difficult for man to achieve and maintain an erection; in women there’s a lack of vaginal lubrication and expansion which can cause pain during intercourse and an inability to achieve orgasm (anorgasmia).
Sexual functioning is also affected due to psychological factors such as self-esteem problems, anxiety and depression, which are associated with in inability to cope with Diabetes. People with this disease may feel insecure and unattractive, which reduces the desire to be intimate with their partner.
Even though a number of patients with Diabetes tend to present some sort of sexual dysfunction, most don’t dare to talk openly with their doctor. Which is why it’s very important to overcome this barrier and seek medical advice after the first sign of a sexual problem. Timely and appropriate care allows the person with Diabetes to have a satisfying sex life. Currently, there are effective medical and psychological treatments to solve these problems. Drugs such as Viagra and Cialis increase blood flow to the genitals, solving erection problems in men, and if they can’t use these, they can also use vasodilator substances through injections, or vacuum pumps, but these have to be used under strict medical supervision. For women, there are gels and lubricants that help relieve vaginal dryness.
When sexual problems have a psychological origin, it’s important to seek medical advice from a specialist of the area. The therapist will analyze the patient’s sexual history, then analyze events that may be inhibiting sexual desire, such as insecurity, discomfort with their partner, depression or stress and propose alternatives for a successful solution. Not receiving appropriate and timely care, can increase the risk of a worse problem, leading to mistrust and conflicts within the couple.
Due to all of this, first one needs to cope well with Diabetes, which implies giving it a real dimension to create a sense of control. For this it’s important to know the disease, follow medication patterns, and have a healthy diet and exercise.
Secondly, it’s essential for the person with Diabetes to be well informed of the consequences that Diabetes can have on their sex life, as this could contribute to the improvement of complying with the necessary basic measures to prevent sexual dysfunction. It’s also essential for health professionals to promote a climate of trust that allows their patients to speak freely about sexuality issues that concern them, all with the purpose of identifying and addressing any problems that may arise on time, and thus improve their quality of life.
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Name: Susana Barcena Gaona
Profession: PhD in Health Psychology
Institution: Social Entelequia
Address: Insurgentes Sur # 327, Col. Hipodromo Condesa.
Phone: 6363 5093