Sexual dysfunction due to diabetes does not affect men only. Diabetic women can also experience sexual problems related to their blood sugar levels.
The complications of uncontrolled blood glucose levels cause problems for both men and women.
While there are plenty of studies on erectile dysfunction in men due to diabetes, there are only a few studies of the effects diabetes has on female sexual health.
These studies indicate that women with diabetes can experience difficulties with:
- Vaginal lubrication
- Sexual arousal
Diabetes and vaginal lubrication
The first major study that examined the effect of diabetes on sexual dysfunction in women was published in Diabetes, the journal of the American Diabetes Association, in 1971.
The researchers discovered that only 6% of women who are not diabetic do not experience an orgasm during intercourse but that 35% of women who have diabetes (six times as many) are unable to achieve orgasm. Most of these women complained of ‘dryness’.
The researchers concluded that one of the reasons why diabetic women are unable to enjoy sexual intercourse is that high blood glucose levels affect vaginal lubrication. This dryness can reduce sensation and even make intercourse painful.
A second study in 1986 found that nearly half of the women who participated had problems with sexual intercourse, with 89% of them saying their problems began after they were diagnosed as diabetic. Nearly one-third of those with problems said their problems were related to vaginal lubrication.
Diabetes and sexual arousal
Uncontrolled blood glucose affects the tiny blood vessels (the micro-circulation) that supply the nerves.
Impaired microcirculation in men results in erectile dysfunction, simply because the blood supply is just not enough to stiffen the penis.
On the other hand, faulty micro-circulation in women reduces sensation in the genital area and makes arousal difficult. A diabetic woman who has been affected in this way is unable to experience the full range of intimate sensations.
The longer a woman’s sugar levels remain uncontrolled, the more likely it is that circulation problems will get in the way of intimacy. This is because, over time, increased glucose in the blood destroys myelin.
Myelin is an electrically-insulating material that forms a layer, the myelin sheath, around nerve fibre. It is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system.
The main purpose of a myelin layer (or sheath) is to maintain the strength at which signals travel along the nerve fibres. It does so by insulating the fibres so that the electrical signals are not dissipated into the surrounding tissues.
When myelin is destroyed, the result is neuropathy, a type of nerve damage.
There are several types of neuropathy. In all cases, the root problem is damage to the tiny blood vessels that supply the nerves.
The most frequent type of neuropathy is peripheral neuropathy. This usually shows up as numbness and tingling in the feet or (less frequently) hands.
Autonomic neuropathy, another type, affects the nerves in your stomach and urinary tract. It may also affect the nerves in the pelvis, nerves that are directly connected to sexual stimulation. This explains the reduced sensitivity of the genital area that makes arousal difficult for a woman with diabetes.
Diabetes and infections
Vaginal infections, such as infections with yeasts, and urinary tract infections can interfere with a woman’s enjoyment of sexual intimacy.
Women with uncontrolled blood glucose often develop chronic yeast infections. This is because the vagina is a moist, warm place where yeasts can grow easily and adding in a big dose of sugar creates an ideal breeding ground for a microscopic fungus.
Yeast infections irritate the vaginal tissue so that it becomes raw and sore. This worsens if the infections keep coming back. The rawness, combined with a lack of lubrication, can make sexual intercourse extremely uncomfortable, even painful.
Women with diabetes are also more prone to urinary tract infections (UTIs) than healthy women. UTIs can have the same as yeast infections, with a burning sensation that can make sex very uncomfortable.
The chronic discomfort of these infections can cause a woman to avoid sex for long periods of time. But the longer a woman goes without sex, the more difficult it can be for her to begin once more.
Diabetes and female sexual complexity
For women, achieving sexual satisfaction is a complex issue, and not being able to enjoy sexual intercourse can have many causes, some of which will operate at the same time.
This makes it difficult to disentangle the effects of diabetes from other causes of female sexual dissatisfaction.
Sometimes female sexual problems can be clearly related to excess glucose in the blood. At other times the physical and emotional demands that diabetes places on a woman and on her efforts to cope with the disease can create stress that plays out in the bedroom.
Other factors can contribute to sexual dissatisfaction and suitable remedies are not always available.
For example, diabetes can cause women to become depressed and this can affect their sexual life. In addition, many of the medications prescribed for women who develop depression as a result of their diabetes can also affect their sex life.
As you can see, excess blood glucose can affect women’s sexual satisfaction in several ways. In any particular case, however, other causes of sexual dysfunction may be involved.
If you are a diabetic woman who is experiencing problems in the bedroom, the best thing you can do is to discuss the matter with your doctor, who is best placed to decide on the actual cause of a sexual problem and on an appropriate course of treatment.
In fact going to your doctor is vital, as problems in the bedroom could indicate that you are not managing to control your blood sugar properly.