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Sexual dysfunction

People living with type 1 diabetes may experience changes that affect their sex life, called sexual dysfunction. Problems with sexual function can affect everyone. It can leave you feeling stressed and anxious.
Content last reviewed and updated: 04.08.2023

A man and woman in bed looking sad and frustrated as a result of sexual dysfunction

Males might experience erectile dysfunction, called impotence. Females can experience altered or reduced sensation, vaginal dryness, thrush and urinary tract infections.

Many people find it hard to talk about their sex lives, but your GP or Diabetes Healthcare Team can help.

They can diagnose the issue quickly and put you on the right treatment. Remember, your healthcare team want to help and will be used to answering these kinds of questions.

Spotting the signs of sexual dysfunction

Male sexual problems

Living with type 1 diabetes increases men’s risk of experiencing erectile dysfunction, known as impotence. It means the inability to get or maintain an erection. It’s common for all males over 40, not just those with type 1.

It can be caused by high blood sugar levels and high blood pressure, medication or another medical condition.

It can also be caused by relationship issues, stress or tiredness.

Female sexual problems

For women, when blood glucose levels and cholesterol are high for a long period of time, it can cause damage to the blood vessels and nerves. This affects the amount of blood flowing to your sexual organs.

You might feel altered or reduced sensation leading to difficulty getting aroused. You may also experience vaginal dryness which can cause sex to be painful.

Having high glucose levels makes you more at risk of developing a common fungal infection, called thrush.

Symptoms of thrush include:

  • white vaginal discharge
  • itching and irritation around the vagina
  • soreness and stinging during sex or when you pee

High glucose levels can also cause urinary tract infections because a lot of sugar in your urine can help bacteria grow.

Symptoms of a urinary tract infection include:

  • pain or burning when you pee
  • needing a pee more often
  • pee that looks cloudy, dark or has a strong smell
  • blood in your pee
  • lower tummy pain or pain in your back, just under the ribs
  • a high temperature above 38C
  • a very low temperature below 36C

If you’re experiencing any of these problems, it may also affect how you’re feeling, causing anxiety or worry.

Getting diagnosed with sexual problems

If you’re experiencing problems with your sex life, talk to your GP or Diabetes Healthcare Team.

Reducing your risk of sexual problems

Sexual problems can affect everyone, whether they have diabetes or not. You may not experience any sexual problems, but people with type 1 are more at risk.

Try to keep your blood glucose levels, cholesterol and blood pressure within your target range as much as possible. Being active, eating healthily and stopping smoking will all help to improve your physical and mental health.

Treatments for sexual problems

Treatments for males

There are treatments to help with men’s sexual dysfunction. Speak to your GP who will assess whether the issue is caused by a physical problem or whether it’s more to do with how you’re feeling.

If it’s a physical problem, your doctor will talk to you about adjusting your blood pressure or insulin. There are also treatments available including tablets, injections and surgical implants.

If it’s linked to your emotions or mental health, your GP may suggest counselling or therapy.

Treatments for females

To help with vaginal dryness and painful sex, lubricants are available from your local pharmacy.

Speak to your doctor or diabetes team if you think you have a urinary tract infection. Drink plenty of water and take over the counter painkillers.

Visit your local pharmacy for thrush treatment and tell the pharmacist you have type 1 diabetes. If it’s not clearing up or if it keeps coming back, speak to your GP or Diabetes Healthcare Team.

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