Middle-aged and older women with diabetes are less satisfied with their sex lives than women without the disease, US government-funded research suggests. While diabetic men have long been known to be prone to sexual problems, particularly impotence, less is known about the intimate lives of women with the disease.
"It's an area that is very understudied, particularly in older women," said Dr Alison Huang of the University of California, San Francisco, who led the new work. Based on a survey of nearly 2 300 California women aged 40-80 years, Dr Huang and her colleagues found that more than a third of those on insulin treatment said they were "moderately" or "very" sexually dissatisfied.
About 25% of diabetic women who weren't on insulin reported similar levels of dissatisfaction, compared to less than 20% of women without diabetes. The gap remained after the researchers accounted for a variety of factors, including age, race, relationship status, overweight and estrogen treatment.
Diabetic woman still interested in sexual activity
"It's not that diabetic women are not interested in sexual activity," said Dr Huang, whose findings appear in the August issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology."The diabetic women in the study had more sexual problems, but they were just as interested in sexual activities and had a similar level of sexual activity as women without diabetes," she said.
About 6% of the women in the study were receiving insulin. Another 15% had diabetes but were not on insulin. The rest did not have diabetes. Among women who were sexually active, those on insulin complained more often of problems with lubrication and orgasm than non-diabetic controls.
And women with diabetes complications such as heart and kidney disease were less likely than others to have sex at least once a month."I think these results do suggest that if you are a diabetic woman, preventing complications may help prevent development of sexual problems," said Dr Huang.
There could be many reasons why diabetic women would have more sexual problems. While the issues in diabetic men are often believed to be tied to vascular disease in the penis, Dr Huang said, blood flow problems are less likely to be at work in women.
Women with hyperglycaemia won’t report low sex drive
Instead, according to Dr Huang, who specialises in women's urogenital problems, the overall burden of living with a chronic disease might be taking a toll on women's sex lives as might nerve damage caused by hyperglycaemia. She said her team did find one perplexing result: women with hyperglycaemia were less likely to report low sexual satisfaction.
It could be a chance result, or it could be that women with higher blood sugar are more impulsive, less concerned about their blood sugar and more interested in sex, Dr Huang speculated. Whatever the reason, she said, "I don't think it's likely that very poorly controlled blood sugar leads to better sexual function in women."
(Reuters Health, Frederik Joelving, July 2012)