Diabetes and Sexual Health: What Women Should Know

In a recent study, 30 to 40 percent of women with diabetes said that they have sexual problems. These women said that they choose not to have sex and are not satisfied with sex. But it’s not A1C levels or problems with diabetes that have a direct effect on sexual function. Instead, the problem for women with diabetes is caused by lack of arousal or feeling “in the mood” for sex. If a woman does not feel in the mood, then her body does not work the way it needs to for her to enjoy sex. While studies are under way to learn more, what we know now is that diabetes can affect a woman’s sex life in different ways, at different times in her life.

Menstrual cycle

Some women find that their menstrual cycles are irregular when their blood glucose levels are high. Others find that their blood glucose levels are higher just before and during their periods. This is because of normal changes in hormones that occur during the course of a women’s menstrual cycle. Many women find that when their blood glucose levels are going up and down, they have less energy. This may lead to less interest in sex. Some women find that changing their insulin dose just before their period can help keep their blood glucose on target.

Fear of pregnancy

Many women with diabetes know the importance of having near normal blood glucose levels before getting pregnant. They also know that taking care of diabetes during pregnancy is demanding. They want to make sure that the time is right for them before they get pregnant. A reliable method of birth control can help women feel more relaxed and in the mood for sex.


Vaginal infections, such as yeast infections or vaginitis, and bladder or urinary tract infections, are more common among women with diabetes. This is because the glucose in the blood gives the bacteria an excellent setting in which to grow. These infections do not have anything to do with how clean a woman is, her age, or her sexual activity. While vaginal infections do not directly affect sexual function, they can cause discomfort and affect how sexy and desirable a woman feels. For more detailed information, see the next page.

Signs of a bladder or urinary tract infection include feeling like you need to go to the bathroom more often, having painful urination, having painful sexual intercourse, or blood in the urine. Some women find that cranberry juice helps to prevent bladder infections. Keep in mind that most cranberry juice is sweetened: about 1/3 cup has 15 grams of carbohydrates, equal to one carb serving. Cranberry juice sweetened with Splenda has about 15 grams of carbohydrate in one cup. Cranberry pills, which are available over-the-counter, may be an alternative that will not affect your blood glucose levels. If you believe you have a bladder infection, be sure to contact your health care provider as you many need testing and/or treatment.


During menopause, hormone levels change, and some women with diabetes find that their blood glucose levels go up and down more than usual. Mood changes and hot flashes are common. Menopause can also cause vaginal dryness. This can make having sex painful or uncomfortable. You can buy lubricating gels, such as water-soluble jelly—these usually solve the problem. If this doesn’t fix things, ask your health care provider about estrogen creams that are available by prescription only.

Lack of sexual desire

Some women find that they are just too tired. They are coping with busy lives, caring for children and grandchildren, or working and trying to find some time for themselves. Diabetes adds more stress and work to their lives. High blood glucose levels add to feeling tired and run down.

Depression is more common among people with diabetes. Depression usually causes people to feel less interested in sex. In addition, some of the medicines used to treat depression can affect sexual desire.

For anyone with diabetes, thinking about low or high blood glucose levels during sex can get in the way. Women may feel less desirable or think that their bodies are less attractive as they get older and perhaps heavier. Complications from diabetes also can cause women to feel less desire emotionally and physically.

putting the spark back in your sex life

The first step is to figure out the cause for the decrease in your desire for sex.

– If you have dryness, infections or are worried about getting pregnant, talk with your health care provider or your gynecologist.

– If you are worried about your blood glucose levels, do a quick check before you have sex. Knowing that you are not likely to have a concern with your blood glucose levels can help you relax and enjoy yourself. You also may want to keep something to treat low glucose by your bedside so that if your levels do go low, you won’t have to get up.

– If you feel sad and blue, or if your sadness is affecting your desire for sex, talk with your health care provider, as there are medicines that may be able to help.

Because there is a link between the mind and body for women with diabetes, these steps can make a difference in getting back that spark!

Reviewed by Robert Ehrman, MD

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Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD, CDE, CDN—an award-winning RD, certified diabetes educator, and past national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is the author of The African American Guide to Living Well With Diabetes, which received the Favorably Reviewed designation from the American Association of Diabetes Educators, and Eating Soulfully and Healthfully with Diabetes.

Dr. Lori Shemek, PhD, CNC, CLC, the best-selling author of “Fire-Up Your Fat Burn! and leading health and weight loss expert, is also known as “The Inflammation Terminator.” She has made it her mission to educate the public on the toxic effects of certain foods and lifestyle choices and how they create inflammation in the body. She is a leading authority on inflammation and its role in weight loss, preventing disease and optimizing health.

Rebecca Bitzer – MS, RD/LD, CEDRD is an award-winning Registered Dietitian, writer, speaker, blogger, and REBEL Dietitian business owner. Rebecca and her team of six Registered Dietitians have counseled thousands of clients struggling with diabetes for over twenty-five years. They work closely with each other along with internists, endocrinologists, therapists, and families.

Maureen Sullivan – RN, CDE has worked for many years as a Registered Nurse, most of them in emergency and trauma services. She is a Certified Emergency Nurse, Certified Diabetes Educator, and the former manager of a hospital stroke program. Maureen’s wealth of knowledge, passion for nursing and education, and ability to engage people makes her an excellent teacher and a captivating lecturer. Recently, Maureen has been concentrating on writing, speaking and teaching, as well as working on her award-winning weekly podcast, “The Health and Humor Show.”

Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN is a nutrition communications specialist, registered dietitian in private practice, social media consultant, speaker, spokesperson and corporate consultant. She is currently the owner of Nutrition Starring YOU, LLC and www.NutritionStarringYOU.com. Lauren strongly believes that we should “Think Healthy, not Skinny”, and “EveryBODY is unique, your diet should be too”. Lauren was co-host of the Family Food Experts Kitchen radio show, available for listening on iHeart Radio and iTunes. Also known as one of the “NutritionBabes”, Lauren co-founded NutritionBabes.com, a popular Health and Wellness website in 2009. NutritionBabes.com was voted one of Healthline’s Top 100 Health Blogs in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Mark Heyman, PhD, CDE is a clinical health psychologist and the director of the Center for Diabetes and Mental Health (CDMH). In addition to treating patients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, Dr. Heyman provides training for health care providers on how to identify and address the emotional and behavioral aspects of diabetes in their patients. He also works with pharmaceutical and medical device companies to help them understand these issues and incorporate this information into their sales, marketing, and patient education materials. He is particularly interested in empirically supported behavioral interventions that promote behavior change and improve physical and mental health in people with diabetes.

Katie Ferraro, MPH, RD, CDE is a nationally-recognized registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and author with an expertise in nutrition communications and curriculum development. She is the co-author of “Diet Therapy in Advanced Practice Nursing” (McGraw Hill, 2014) and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Nutrition at the University of California San Francisco and University of San Diego’s graduate schools of nursing.

Dr. Beverly S. Adler, PhD, CDE (aka “Dr. Bev”) is a clinical psychologist and certified diabetes educator, author and speaker. She specializes treating the emotional issues of people with diabetes. In her private practice, she provides individual, family and/or group therapy utilizing a cognitive behavior therapy orientation, combined with a spiritual approach. Her goal is to empower her patients to manage their diabetes.

Dr. Bev is the author of two self-help diabetes books. She has written numerous articles which are published in print and online – always focused on diabetes from the emotional perspective. She also speaks to audiences of people living with diabetes, as well as, to audiences of healthcare professionals and diabetes educators. Dr. Bev, herself, has been living successfully with type 1 diabetes for 40+ years.

In August 2016, Dr. Bev was honored to receive the “CDE Entrepreneur of the Year” Award from her Metropolitan NY Association of Diabetes Educators.

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND is an internationally recognized nutrition and diabetes expert with more than two decades experience. Through writing, speaking and one-on-one coaching, Jill empowers people to grab control of their health. She has worked as both a nutrition counselor and a diabetes educator in the hospital and research settings, and now in private practice in Newport News, VA. Jill is known for her practical approach and caring attitude. Her no-nonsense strategies to eating well include foods that both taste good and are good for you.

Marlene Koch (pronounced ‘cook’) is a nationally recognized nutritionist, popular TV personality and New York Times bestselling author. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from UCLA with a Bachelor’s degree in Nutritional Science. She is a registered dietitian and one of a select group of dietitians to hold an advanced certificate in Child and Adolescent Weight Management from the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

Marlene has taught professional chefs from the American Culinary Federation the principles of healthy cooking and eating. She has been adjunct Nutrition professor and cooking instructor for Columbus State College and the Columbus State Culinary Academy, and she is a nationally recognized expert in weight loss, diabetes, child and adolescent nutrition, and sugar substitutes.

Marlene has sold over one million cookbooks, and is a regular guest on QVC.

Barbara Ruhs – MS, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and owner of Neighborhood Nutrition LLC, a consulting firm focused on providing solutions to help food companies and supermarkets improve consumer health & wellness. She’s a former supermarket dietitian and has run a successful business for 17 years. A leader in the field of nutrition, her mission is to help people by impacting the way food is produced, marketed and sold. She’s a strong advocate for supermarket dietitians and believes the retail food industry has the greatest potential to impact public health.

Cheryl Orlansky has over 25 years of experience in health promotion and chronic disease prevention and management. Her first career as a registered dental hygienist led her towards a path of wellness and nutrition! Her expertise is in diabetes, weight management and cardiovascular disease for individuals and groups. She works in a large private practice including endocrinology, internal medicine, rheumatology, neurology and sleep medicine. She is an award winning dietitian with current leadership positions in state and local dietetics organizations.

She has been interviewed and quoted in media outlets for WebMD, Atlanta Sports and Fitness, Georgia Public Broadcasting, and the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. She has partnered with V-103 Radio to lead supermarket tours as part of a community outreach during National Nutrition Month.

Cheryl helps her clients reach balance through lifestyle choices: cooking and eating, activity and purpose in life.

Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and classically-trained chef. With a passion for helping people (including her father) with diabetes, she’s author of The With or Without Meat Cookbook: The Flexible Approach to Flavorful Diabetes Cooking and the award-winning The All‐Natural Diabetes Cookbook, both published by the American Diabetes Association. Jackie is also author of 1,000 Low-Calorie Recipes and Big Green Cookbook. Her next book, The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook—2nd Edition, was published in 2015.

Nutritionist Rania Batayneh, MPH is the author of the best-selling book, The One One One Diet. She holds a master’s degree in public health nutrition from the University of Michigan School of Public Health and is also a Wellcoaches Certified Health and Wellness Coach endorsed by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

OmnichannelHealth Media, publisher of DiabetesDigest.com, does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See additional information.