A funny thing happened to Jim Turner years ago when he was hiking with a girlfriend. It was evening and the two were lying on a blanket under a full moon. The conditions were perfect for romance. "And I just had zero interest in sex," says Turner, an actor and dLife television host, who has type 1 diabetes. "I was lying there staring at the moon. My girlfriend looked at me and said, 'Why are you sweating so much?'"
These were the days before he regularly tested his blood sugar levels and Turner hadn't realized his levels were so low. But even now, with testing, he says sexual spontaneity can take a hit when you have diabetes.
Diabetes is a leading cause of sexual issues in men. Some issues, like loss of spontaneity, can be chronic irritants. Some, such as erectile dysfunction (ED) -- the inability to get or keep an erection -- are easy to recognize. Others, such as decreased desire for sex or low testosterone, can creep up on you.
"Decreased libido moves slowly, like a glacier," says R. Keith Campbell, distinguished professor in diabetes care and pharmacotherapy at Washington State University, who has type 1 diabetes. "You may not even notice it until your partner says, 'You haven't tried to have sex with me for six weeks.'"
Whatever the problem, there are effective solutions for diabetes-related sexual issues in men. Read on to learn about them.
Diabetes and Men: What Causes Sexual Problems?
Men with poor blood sugar control are most likely to have sexual issues. Prolonged high blood sugar levels can damage nerves and blood vessels, including those in the penis. This disrupts blood flow and can cause erectile dysfunction. Sexual issues can also happen in men with good diabetes control, but they are usually milder and easier to treat.
About half of men who've had diabetes for more than 10 years have erectile dysfunction (ED), and men with diabetes tend to develop it 10 to 15 years before other men. If you have trouble achieving and maintaining an erection more than half the time, you may have ED.
Depression or emotional problems and some medications can also cause ED. "Fortunately, none of the medications used to treat diabetes cause sexual dysfunction in men or women," says Vivian Fonseca, MD, FRCP, chief of endocrinology at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans and president-elect of medicine and science for the American Diabetes Association. "However, high blood pressure is common in people with diabetes, and some blood pressure medications -- such as beta blockers, clonidine, and diuretics -- are more likely to cause ED than others."
Erectile Dysfunction and Heart Disease
Men with erectile dysfunction and diabetes are also more likely to have heart disease, another diabetes-related risk, because the same problems that block blood flow in the penis block it in the heart. So any lifestyle practice that is bad for your heart -- such as smoking, being sedentary, and being overweight -- also hurts your ability to have or sustain an erection.
"For men with type 2 diabetes, erection problems are usually just the tip of the iceberg," says Ira Goldstein, MD, director of San Diego Sexual Medicine at Alvarado Hospital.