Partners Speak Out About Sex

They say sex sells. Apparently, sex problems are also a hot topic. I received three comments on last week’s post ("ADA Advice on Sex") from women whose male partners with diabetes have withdrawn from sex. There is a lot of this going around.

I want to thank and congratulate all the people who commented. It’s brave to bring up sexual issues. It’s also brave to bring up partner issues. My wife says partners get lots of pats on the head—”You’re so brave,” “You’re really there for him”—but very little actual help.


I’ve led and spoken to all kinds of support groups since I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) 22 years ago, and I know one thing. There are lots of support groups for people with problems, but very little for their partners. There is support, for example, for adult survivors of incest, but there are no support groups for partners of adult survivors of anything. This can cause problems for the person who needs help and the partner both.

A Personal Story
Since everyone is so honest here, I’ll tell you a little of my story. About five years ago, my health got to the point where I couldn’t have reliable erections either. We had other relationship problems that contributed to my losing interest, but the erection issues played a big part. I tried Viagra, but it didn’t work very well. So I withdrew. It wasn’t fair to my wife, but because of our other problems, I didn’t really care.

She spent two years getting more desperate, and our relationship kept getting more distant. She looked into finding sex in other places, which was OK with me. It took the pressure off. I can tell you more about that if you write me.

The interesting thing was that, now that I could relax about sex, I stopped worrying about erections. I learned other ways to please her, and soon I found that we were having hotter sex than we ever had with intercourse. (I would be happy to share some of these practices, but you’ll have to write me—I’m not sure DSM is ready for them!)

The weird thing is that, maybe because I could relax more, and because we worked out some of the problems in our relationship, I got good erection function back, with the help of Viagra. So now we have the best of both worlds. We can have intercourse and nonintercourse sex too. And I still think the nonintercourse stuff is way hotter.

Trying New Things
Unfortunately, many guys just will not try new things sexually. We’re programmed to think that sex is about intercourse only. It’s too bad, because I know older couples, including some in their 80s, who are having the best sex of their lives, mostly without intercourse. But you have to be willing to try. Sometimes a woman can show a man what she wants, if she has figured it out by practicing on herself. Sometimes the man will cooperate.

If it has to be intercourse or nothing, there are a lot of other things you can try. If Viagra doesn’t work for you, there are other pills, there are implantable pumps, there are injections. If your diabetes doc won’t help you, ask for a referral to a urologist or another professional who specializes in sex issues. Some doctors just aren’t comfortable talking about it.

It’s the Relationship
You also really need to look at your relationship as a whole. A guy who is saying he “doesn’t want sex anymore” at age 50 must be very sick, unless he’s got issues with anger, depression, or grief that are keeping him away. (Or if, for him, “no intercourse” = “no sex.”) If you’ve been together for a long time, there are bound to be issues that could use some attention. That might not fix the sexual function problems—then again, it might—but it should at least get him interested in trying.

For a younger man, like the newly-diagnosed 27-year-old with Type 1 diabetes whose partner wrote in, the issues are much more likely psychological. These could be depression or fear related to diabetes. He may need more support with that. There could also be relationship issues he hasn’t brought up, as 27-year-olds often don’t.

So I encourage everyone to encourage their partners to try some new things, and get some new help. Don’t give up. CDE Donna Rice, coauthor of the book Sex and Diabetes, says that nearly anyone with diabetes can have a good sex life. I agree.

More than anything, I’m interested in the communication issues. How has diabetes affected communication with your partner? Let’s hear it from both sides.

  • J.D.Taylor

    OK-How about some input from someone who has lived with Type 1 diabetes for 44 years. Given the fact that I survived 17 years of marriage and(Prior to a long overdue divorce) am the proud father of a ten year old little girl I think I might offer some “positives” to diabetics of all types. First let me say that with regards to diabetes not all who were and are diabetic not all of us will suffer complications with “rising to the occasion”. As I have been single now for sometime I often am hesitant to mention to members of the opposite sex with whom I desire an intimate relationship that I am diabetic as all the adds for “erectile dysfunction” treatments seem to imply that I (And most all diabetics)am unable to perform in regards to “Good Old” intercourse. Thankfully, in my case nothing could be further from the truth. I am presently 48 years of age and with the right partner have little, if any trouble satisfying both their and my own desires and needs. After that has been accomplished, I often feel more at ease in discussing my near lifelong struggles with the chronic condition of Diabetes Mellitus which often leads to questions about “What are you taking?” and “Are there any side effects” to which I respond “Nothing to the first” and a “Big contented grin(!) to the second”

  • mike

    I am 47 type 2 and basically made fun of my friends who had to take viagra etc. Well last year I got really sick within on month triple open bypass then two weeks later sudden cardiac arrest and wham pacemaker. So here I am single 47 with ed and now if I did have an erection nothing comes out dry organism. I have been in cardiac rehab for 6 month’s and with all the doctors the last thing that I have seen is a urologist. Boy do I feel stupid right now knowing that if I go out on a date I cant perform or basically I feel like whats the point. Let me know if you have anything decent to say

  • David Spero RN

    Hi Mike,
    Wow. You have been through a lot, with a near-death experience and everything. So cut yourself some slack. But I won’t.
    You wrote:
    >Boy do I feel stupid right now knowing that if I >go out on a date I cant perform or basically I >feel like whats the point.

    Did you read the post before your commented on it?
    There are lots of ways to please women without having to “perform,” meaning get a big erection. You can use your hands, mouth, toys, or combine some or all of them. If you want some specifics, e-mail me at [email protected].

    So you’re not physically perfect. Most people aren’t, and many women are quite willing to work with you to have a strong relationship and good sex. You just have to be willing to try new things. Try talking openly about your condition (maybe not on the first date, but on the second) and what it would mean for her.

    If it has to be intercourse or nothing, there are a number of things besides the pills that you could use. There are whole web sites for men struggling with ED. Good luck!

  • Rhonda

    I am writing from a woman’s point of view. I was diagnosed with vaginal cancer in May, 2004. I went through very aggressive chemo and radiation; both external and internal. I finished all treatments at the end of December of ’04. Due to the damage done from the radiation (3rd degree burns which lead to necrosis) I ended up in the hospital in May of ’06 having a pelvic exenteration. (Pelvic exenteration (or pelvic evisceration) is a radical surgical treatment that removes all organs from a person’s pelvic cavity.)

    Due to the surgery, my entire vaginal area was rebuilt using muscles from my abdomen. The problem is that the scarring is so bad on the outside that it makes it virtually impossible for intercourse. This was a big deal to my husband of 20 years and he bailed out on me as I lay in ICU, three days after the surgery which had an 80% chance of killing me. I stayed in the hospital for 6 weeks and went home to a life that I didn’t know.

    Dating, possible remarriage… It all seems impossible to me because I just don’t know if there are any men that can get past the part of no actual penetrating sex. I am fully aware of how to please a man with out sexual intercourse. Non-penetrating sex for me would be awesome too if I met a man who was willing to do that. During my treatments when I couldn’t have sex, I found new ways to please my husband, made a trip to the adult store and found some fabulous things (once I got over being so embarrassed to be in there) 🙂 Anyway, I was searching today for some kind of a support group for people who DO NOT have intercourse and I found this.

    To Mike who posted… You don’t need to be able to have an erection to make a woman happy and you can still be fully pleased I would assume without one. I am not very experienced in all of that because like I mentioned I had been married for more than 20 years. I just wanted to encourage you and let you know there are lots of ways to please a woman and most women, I would bet would be content with or without penetration as long as you satisfied her one way or another.

    Thanks and I wish you luck and if anyone does know of any kind of a support group like I need, please let me know. I am about scared to look for fear of finding a bunch of perverts!

  • S24

    I have just found out today that my husband has not been taking his medication and I am devistated.I was not aware he was doing this. His response was that he was fedup taking pills. I kicked off and told him he was selfish but I dont know what to do. I still think of us as young im 37 hes 39

  • Roseanne

    We have been married for a very long time, but for the past 20 years, my husband, who is the diabetic has refused to do anything at all about the lack of intimacy in our relationship.

    He promises things will change, but they never do, and he refuses to accept that I cannot go on much longer without some kind of intimacy.

    We used to have a very passionate relationship, so I don’t understand why he is punishing me in this way.

    He is very bad tempered, treats me like an idiot, who has no right to an opinion, is unsupportive of me when I need to talk to him about other things in my life, and patronises and yells at me if I try to talk to him about anything. He accuses me of thinking that the whole world is against me, when I feel in fact, that I cannot cope, or deal with rejections from other people,when that happens, and he certainly doesn’t try to make me feel better – he blames me! I now feel suicidal, and that I can’t go on.

  • David Spero RN

    Roseanne, you seem to be in a very dark place now. Please get some help — professional, friends, spiritual, family, or all of the above. Your issue with your husband goes beyond lack of intimacy; it’s closer to open hostility.

    If you want to try to repair the relationship on your own, I would suggest Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages. That book has saved and fixed a lot of marriages. But I think you need to get some help for yourself, too. And don’t wait; you’re already talking about suicide, so this is a pretty critical situation.

  • Larry

    After, having read the piece about Roseanne, I find I am probably the same as her husband. I too, have not had any, sex in over 28 years. I honestly think that its because the last time my wife and I had an intimate moment, I couldn’t perform. I was mad, humiliated, by myself and with myself. I can not initiate anything now. I think my wife may have found ways to satisfy herself. I often wish she would go out and meet someone that could give her the attention and intimacy she might like. We do not talk about it. Unfortunately, I am a problem avoider and she never brings up anything, in fear, probably that I will say something stupid. I am 69 years old, always have sex on my mind and can’t even satisfy my own urges. I wish there was some authority org that could make us go, read these peices from others and tell us to go have sex, Now! If only there were and my wife and I would attend. Thank you Larry

  • Amy Carter

    Oh my gosh, this is so sad! Mostly what underlies all of these stories is FEAR . . . You said it correctly, Larry, it’s FEAR that is holding anybody back. In a partnership absolutely the most important thing is communication. Find your strenth and challenge yourself to approach your partner, in a gentle way, to address issue by issue. They are baby steps you must take, but trust evolves and blossoms as time goes on. It must be a commitment from both sides. Coule counseling is always a great idea if you don’t feel you can broach those intimate subjects on your own.

  • concepcion

    I am 40 and have a partner with diabetes. It has recently been diagnosed. We have been in the relationship for almost seven years. about a week ago, we were making love while all of a sudden he started losing erection. We dif not get to climax. I could sense how bad he was feeling. I turned to the side and he softly and worried said to me, “do you want me to feel you with my hands.” We have done that trick on me several times in which I have not only one but three or four orgasms. When he suggested to do that same trick I said to him to forget it. We went to sleep. Next day in the morning we started intimacy again. He said to me “are you sure you want to keep going?, I might end up losing erection again and you will get mad at me again” So I told him that I was not mad and that part of him losing erection wss because iy was all in his head. Psychologically, he is thinking that if he has diabetes and know that it can make him have rectile problems, that it is the beginning of his misfortune. He knows he is very special to me. So I have told him that we just have to find ways to deal with it and also to find other ways to keep satisfying each other. It is also important to mention that in our culture, it is hard to talk about this issues. We have been thought that talking about sex or having sex is a matter of sin. But we are so lucky that at least me, do not believe sex is such. Therefore, I believe communication regarding the whole thing would not be a problem. Cultural thoughts, ha!!!

  • Shell

    I’ve been in a relationship for 1 1/2 years and from the onset there’s hardly been any sex. I had been in a 20 yr marriage where we had seperate bedrooms for 7 years so I was surprised, at first reluctant but also without knowing ready for love again. My new partner was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes last Xmas. He’s not interested in going back to the doctors. He says ‘ you know I have this problem’ but I feel unloved, ugly, undesirable. I do all I can for him. I feel he’s even avoiding kissing and hugging in case it leads to something. I love him so much and it hurts so much. I would be happy just to have him touch, cuddle and kiss me and I’ve told him that but things never change. I just want to feel loved and important

    • Shell, you need to get some help with this. Can you get your partner to see a couples counselor with you? He may believe he is showing you love in other ways, but you need to talk about it. If he refuses to seek help with you, you’ll have to decide what to do about this relationship.

    • Sadie

      I feel your pain. 6 months ago my relationship changed, he doesn’t think he loves me anymore after 30 years , then we discover he has diabetes which has caused ED. I have no idea where to go know but I want you to know you are not alone