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Sex and Diabetes: Diabetes for Couples


Apr 26, 2010

Good communication is the key to healthy relationships

Dear Diabetes Health, I am a 60 year old married woman who was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes eight years ago.  In the last two years, I have lost interest in sex. I just don't feel like it, although I still like hugs.

My husband doesn't like this at all.  He is angry with me for not meeting his needs and thinks if I took better care of myself, I could be sexual with him.  I have been slipping, I guess. My last A1C was 8.8%  But I don't think that's the problem.

I told him that if he wanted to have an affair, that would be OK with me. He says he doesn't want to break his vows.  I still love him, but this situation is very hard for both of us. Any advice you can give would be appreciated.

Darlene from Down Under

Dear Darlene,

It's good to hear from Australia. A marriage without sex is OK if neither partner wants sex. But when one person wants it and the other doesn't, you have a problem. And it sounds like you have some other problems as well. 

Your not wanting him might cause him a lot of frustration, as well as worry and even grief. He may believe that you no longer find him attractive, and he might suspect you are seeing someone else. It was generous of you to give him permission for sex with others, but he could easily interpret that as "She just wants me to go away." 

There are things you can do to increase your sex drive, but your relationship and your health are the most important. Let him know he is still loved.  It is especially important to express affection when you have no sexual desire, using words, gifts, hugs, massage, doing little things for him. (Hopefully, he'll do the same for you.) As your relationship improves, you can work together on restoring some physical intimacy.

About the cause of your low desire, your husband could be right. An A1C of 8.8% is equivalent to an average blood glucose of over 200, enough to slow anyone down.  This is important for more than sex. You are increasing your risk for complications by running this high.

You said you are "slipping." Would your husband be willing to help you manage your diabetes? Ask him whether, instead of getting angry, he could help you do better. Could you go walking together, or dancing, or some other kind of exercise?  That often brings people closer, builds romance, and lowers blood sugar.

When it comes to food, are you two on the same page? Does he nag you about eating, or sabotage you, or does he give good non-directive support (meaning letting you be responsible for yourself but helping you in ways you want to be helped?) 

In dealing with health problems, it's important for couples to have regular discussions about what is working and what needs to change.  Dr. Ann Steiner, a psychologist specializing in chronic illness, gives clients a list of things to talk about regularly:

  • Tell your partner how you are feeling physically. How much energy do you have? What are your biggest concerns?
  • Talk about how you're feeling emotionally.
  • Tell your partner what he is doing now that helps you and what doesn't help you.
  • Tell your partner what you need most from him.
  • Always ask your partner, how can I support you?

Both partners should say how they are doing; not just the person with diabetes. You can even talk about your sexual issues. This practice has really helped us (David and Aisha).

Perhaps he can come with you to health care appointments, to support you and to learn what you are going through.   He might even help by speaking up about things you are too shy to mention.

You do have things to ask a doctor about.  Do you need to be on different diabetes medication, perhaps insulin, to bring your sugars down? Could you use some coaching on your diet?  Sounds like you could be depressed, and depression often kills desire. If you're not being treated for depression, perhaps you should be. If you are being treated for depression (or high blood pressure), those medicines could be hurting sexual desire and function.

Ask your doctor about all these possibilities. Perhaps these medicines could be changed.  Perhaps your hormone levels (estrogens and testosterone) are low, which dampens desire and is associated with poorer diabetes control. You could be tested for that.

Touching your husband doesn't have to wait for better glucose control. Couples need physical contact. There are many ways to give pleasure, such as massage, that don't involve genitals at all but might help you stay connected. Perhaps that will lead to other things! 

Perhaps our readers have some other ideas for you. How do you deal with diabetes as a couple?

We hope you and your husband can work together to help you get in better shape.  If you do that, you can improve your relationship, your health, and your sexuality.  Please let us know how it goes. 

Visit David and Aisha online at www.davidsperorn.com or coupleswellness.sitesvp.com.  You can also read David's blog at www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/David-Spero.


Categories: A1c Test, Blood Glucose, Blood Sugar, Columns, Diabetes, Diabetes, Food, Insulin, Love and Diabetes, Men's Issues, Sexual Issues, Type 2 Issues, Women's Issues



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