Sex, Intimacy, and Diabetes

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I’ve got a whole new career! What a surprise! I never expected to be a sex educator. My partner and I are giving workshops on Sex and Intimacy in Chronic Illness and Disability. We’ve given some for the Multiple Sclerosis Society and some in the community for people with illness, psychotherapists, ministers, and sex educators.

How did this happen? I was a health educator, nurse, and author writing about self-care and the social causes of illness. I really didn’t think much about sex, except as it related to health.

Strangely, I started getting interested in sex education when I lost interest in sex. My partner and I have been married for over 30 years, and sex had been our main way of connecting. We didn’t communicate very well; we just smoothed differences over with sex. Two or three years ago, I lost most of my ability to have erections. Partly this was due to my multiple sclerosis, and partly because of problems in our relationship, I think. I tried some other ways to be sexual, but mostly I withdrew into working more. Our relationship became more distant; we were more like roommates than we were a couple in love.

It got to the point where my partner started looking for sex in other places. She wasn’t sneaking around or having an affair. She was honest with me and told me everything she was doing. We started communicating better about sex, and this helped us communicate about other things.

I felt a great weight had been lifted from me, because I didn’t have to try to satisfy her when I thought I couldn’t. I was liberated to try some new things. I discovered that I could give her better orgasms with my hands than I ever could, or than anybody else had, with regular intercourse. We got very creative with the use of hands and with help from other body parts, and now our sex life is better than it has ever been, and so is our love.

It turns out that you can do more with hands and/or toys than you can do with an erect penis, which is sort of a one-trick pony—it can only go in and out. It usually misses women’s most responsive, sensitive areas. Most of these involve the clitoris, which actually runs most of the way around the outside of the vagina, and the G-spot, which is just inside in the direction of the belly button. These are easily reached with fingers, thumbs, or hands.

There are a lot of other erotic areas for both women and men. You can find all kinds of ways to give and receive pleasure if you relax, explore, and communicate with each other. I’ve been talking about these methods with other couples, and it works for them, too. One couple, Linda and Jeff, told me they are having the best sex of their lives. This wouldn’t be anything special; lots of married couples say that. But Linda and Jeff are 85 years old!

If it works for them, it could work for you. Many people with diabetes have sexual problems, and loss of sex really can knock a hole in your relationship and your quality of life. A lot of men get erection problems; a lot of women have vaginal dryness, frequent yeast infections, and loss of sensitivity. Many doctors are not comfortable talking about sex beyond prescribing drugs like sildenafil (brand name Viagra). It may be hard to find help from either medical or psychological professionals.

A lot of these problems can be resolved with better blood glucose control. But many can also be resolved by learning some alternative ways to do sex—things you can do with your hands, mouth, or other body parts, and places you can stimulate like the G-spot, prostate, and other sensitive organs. Use more supports, whether medicines, lubricants, or toys. Try new, easier positions as ways of dealing with fatigue, pain, and other health-related problems.

I’m planning to write about these issues occasionally in the coming weeks. What sex questions would you like answered? How has diabetes affected your sex life? How have changes in your sexual relationship affected other areas of your life? Post ideas or questions here, or visit me at

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