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Whittington Health NHSUCL

Sexual problems



Troubled looking woman sitting on edge of bed with man looking away in background

Key advice:
If you have problems with sex - for example, problems with erections or vaginal dryness -  talking to your doctor or nurse, as well as your partner, can really help. There's a lot that can be done.

Sexual problems are very common

  • As many as 40 in every 100 women report a sexual problem at some time in their lives.
  • More than 50 in every 100 men between the ages of 40 and 70 have had a sexual problem at some time.

Having diabetes increases the risk of developing sexual problems, but treatment is often effective.

Why do sexual problems develop?

Sexual problems are more likely to be
psychological if:
  • the problem started suddenly
  • there have been bad sexual experiences in the past
  • there are problems in the relationship
  • sex is sometimes normal but sometimes not
  • morning erections still happen normally.

Sexual problems can result from a combination of factors:

  • Psychological issues: feeling low, stressed, worried or having relationship difficulties can reduce interest in sex and cause fears about intimacy or sexual performance.
  • Lifestyle factors: alcohol, smoking, inactivity and tiredness.
  • Physical problems: physical problems related to diabetes, such as damage to blood vessels and the nervous system.
  • Hormonal problems: a low testosterone level is more common in men with diabetes and men who are overweight.
  • Increasing age
  • Medicines: like beta blockers and some blood pressure tablets
  • Less common causes: certain operations and other medical conditions.

What are the most common sexual problems with diabetes?

Click on the image below to hear how Lawrence his wife have coped.

In men, problems with erections. This is more common with diabetes because high blood glucose levels can damage some of the small blood vessels and nerves around the penis. These help control the blood flow during an erection.

In women, vaginal dryness and reduced sex drive. This is more common with diabetes because high blood glucose levels can damage small vessels and nerves around the vagina. This can cause dryness, reduced sensation and can affect arousal. Women may also experience difficulty in reaching orgasm and experience painful intercourse.

Will I experience sexual problems?

Many people with diabetes enjoy a healthy sex life. However, diabetes does increase the risk of having a problem. Men with diabetes are three times more likely to have a problem with erections than men without diabetes.

If you do experience a problem speak to your partner and your doctor or nurse about it. Talking about it and receiving treatment can make a big difference.

See also above: Prevention | Checks & tests | Complications | Treatment | Links