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How Diabetes Affects a Woman's Sexual Health

How to Get your Sex Life Back on Track

For some sexual matters, a quick fix may be enough. For others, you may need a two- or three-pronged approach.

  • Start with your doctor. About 80% of women with diabetes don't bring up sexual issues with their doctors. Don't be one of them. Your doctor can narrow down the possible causes of your sexual problems and suggest treatments. If you don't feel comfortable talking to your doctor about sex, ask for a referral to a doctor who specializes in sexual medicine.

    Sexual issues can have many causes, and some may not even be related to diabetes. Medications, like some antidepressants and antibiotics, can cause sexual side effects. Other health issues or habits, like smoking and drinking too much alcohol, can also have an impact.
  • Ease vaginal dryness. Prescription or over-the-counter vaginal lubricants can smooth the path to better sex. But don't just reserve them for sex. It may help to use one regularly. Ask your OB/GYN doctor to suggest a lubricant, especially if you are trying to get pregnant. (Some can interfere with sperm.)

    If you are in menopause or postmenopause, a prescription low-dose estrogen ring or cream that you apply in your vagina can help. Taken in this form, your whole body doesn't absorb the estrogen. So heart disease, stroke, and cancer are less of a risk. There is also a non-estrogen pill that may help with painful sex after menopause. Ospemifene (Osphena) acts like estrogen to help make the vagina thicker and less fragile. It does carry warnings about increased risks of stroke, deep vein thrombosis, and endometrial cancer.
  • Explore your pleasure zones. New techniques or sex toys may help if you have lost sexual desire or sensation. Explore areas of your body beyond your genitals. Spice up intimacy with oral sex, a vibrator, stroking, or a massage. Also, slow down sex if you need to. "Your body responds more slowly because of diabetes," Roszler says. "Tell your partner if you need more time."
  • Move your body outside of bed. Exercise can improve your sex life in many ways. It reduces stress, improves flexibility, releases feel-good hormones, and keeps you looking and feeling good. 
  • Consider depression. "Be aware that depression is an issue for many women with diabetes," Marrero says. "Get screened for it if it's a concern. Get treated if you have it." Counseling, antidepressants, or a combination of both can help. Counseling may also help if you’re anxious about sex because of pain, Roszler says.
  • Try a Mediterranean diet. In a 2010 study, women with type 2 diabetes who ate a diet focused on fruits, vegetables, potatoes, beans, and whole grains reported being more satisfied in all areas of sex than women with type 2 diabetes who did not. A Mediterranean diet also appears to improve blood sugar levels more than a standard low-fat diet and protects against diabetes-linked health issues. So it may be a win-win for you.
  • Get your diabetes under control. Keep your blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol in check. Among other benefits, you'll have less chance of getting urinary tract and vaginal yeast infections. You may still have some sexual challenges. But just as sex is good for diabetes, staying healthy is good for sex.

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Reviewed on February 11, 2015