Men's sexual health
Sexual problems will happen to almost everyone at some point, whether you have diabetes or not. And if you have diabetes, it doesn’t mean you’ll definitely have a problem.
However, high sugar levels over time can damage blood vessels and nerves including those to the penis. This damage to blood vessels can restrict the amount of blood flowing to your sexual organs, so you can lose some sensation. This could mean you have difficulty getting aroused.
Sex can be an important part of our lives, and something we still struggle to talk about. Getting support and time to talk about sexual problems with a healthcare professional is one of your 15 essential healthcare checks.
You’re entitled to this care and support, so if you’re not getting it, don’t be afraid to ask your healthcare team. They’re there to help you.
Erectile dysfunction: the most common sexual problem for men
The most common type of sexual problem in men is erectile dysfunction (sometimes known as impotence). This is when you can’t get or keep an erection – early signs could be if you start to lose your morning erection.
There can be several reasons for this, such as limited blood flow, nerve damage (neuropathy) and damaged blood vessels. It can also be down to medication or just how you’re feeling at the time.
Treatment for erectile dysfunction
Pills like Viagra and Cialis are given to treat erectile dysfunction, but talk to your healthcare team before taking these, as they can cause heart problems.
Therapy or counselling can also help with managing erectile dysfunction.
Diabetes is not the only cause of erectile dysfunction: ageing, drugs and alcohol can also contribute. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about and can happen to most men at some point in their lives.
You may get thrush if your sugar levels run high
Thrush is a fungal infection more common in women – but men can get it too.
It’s not a sexually transmitted infection (STI) but it can be passed on during sex. Anyone can get it, but you are more likely to get thrush if you have diabetes and your sugars run high. This is because a lot of sugar in your urine may lead to the yeasts that cause thrush to multiply.
Some medications called SGLT-2 inhibitors or gliflozins (Dapagliflozin, Empagliflozin and Canagliflozin) can occasionally increase your risk of developing thrush by allowing more sugar out of the body into your urine. However, most people don’t experience this side effect.
Thrush can cause the tip of the penis or under the foreskin to be sore or itchy. And you might notice discharge or find it hard to pull your foreskin back. White patches on the head of your penis are also a common symptom. If you notice these signs, speak to your doctor.
You can avoid getting thrush by:
- keeping your blood sugars as close to your target range as possible
- keeping your genitals clean (but don’t use perfumed shower gels)
- avoiding tight underwear or trousers
There's no link between diabetes and sexually transmitted infections (STI)
You’re no more likely to get an STI if you’ve got diabetes.
You might get an STI if you have sex with someone who’s got one and you don’t use a condom. But rest assured, diabetes doesn’t have anything to do with it.
You might not know you’ve got an STI because you’ve no symptoms, so using protection during sex will reduce your chances of getting one.
Talk to your healthcare team if you have any questions or need advice on what kind of protection you should choose.
Urinary tract infection (UTI) and diabetes
This is when the tubes that run from your kidneys to your bladder (urinary tract) get infected. An infection in the lower part of your urinary tract is called cystitis – you’ve probably heard of it.
UTI’s aren’t sexually transmitted, but having sex is one way that gut bacteria can get into your urinary tract.
UTIs are more common in women, but men can get them too. If your sugars are running high, you’re more likely to get a UTI. That’s because a lot of sugar in your urine means certain bacteria can more easily grow.
Some diabetes medications called SGLT-2 inhibitors or gliflozins (Dapagliflozin, Empagliflozin or Canagliflozin) can increase your risk of developing urinary tract infections, because the medications can result in more sugar getting into your urine. However, most people don’t develop this side effect.
Symptoms of a UTI include:
- a high temperature, chills or feeling shivery
- pain in your back or sides
- feeling or being sick
- feeling confused or restless
How to avoid getting a UTI
You can avoid getting a UTI by keeping your blood sugar as close to your target as you can, drinking plenty of fluids and going to the toilet when you need to pee.
Speak to your healthcare team for more information and advice about avoiding UTIs.
Sexual problems due to your emotional state
How you’re feeling can have a big impact on your ability to have sex. Check your mood in our health tools zone.
If you’re feeling embarrassed or worried about a sexual problem, this can make you feel like you don’t want to or can’t have sex.
But you're not alone. Talk to your healthcare team for more advice and support.
You can also contact the helpline run by charity Diabetes UK for support and advice from trained counsellors or go to its website for a range of resources. This includes information on what people told the charity about sex and diabetes, including tips on what can help and who to talk to.