What's going on with your blood sugar can have a huge impact on how you feel between the sheets—and not in a good way. "Medical conditions such as diabetes can cause your sex life to take a plunge," says Lauren Streicher, MD, an assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, and author of Slip Sliding Away: A Gynecologist's Guide to Turning Back the Clock on Your Sex Life. "As a diabetic, you have multiple obstacles for achieving a satisfying sex life that other people don't have." The good news is that once you understand how to deal with the symptoms that may be putting a damper on your sex life, you can boost your sexual satisfaction big time. Here's help:
1. Find some new toys.
If sex feels a little (or a lot) less intense lately, diabetes may be to blame. "Diabetics often have decreased blood flow to the vagina because of blood vessel changes, which leads to less arousal and sensation," says Streicher. "Studies show that diabetics don't orgasm as easily as others due to vascular changes and nerve damage." In short: What used to work for you in terms of reaching orgasm may not be working any more, so it's time to try something new. The quickest way to get the stimulation you need is with a vibrator. "Make sure the model you use offers clitoral stimulation, because it won't help much to have something hard or overly powerful inside your vagina," Streicher says. Here are 18 sex toys experts use—and love.
2. Pay attention to pH.
Increased blood sugar levels can throw the pH balance of your vagina out of whack, upping your odds of chronic vaginal infections. "When pH goes up, the healthy lactobacilli in your vagina can no longer survive, and you get bad bacteria growth like bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections," says Streicher. One way to keep your bacteria in balance is with an OTC vaginal gel twice a week. Try RepHresh, which is FDA-approved to help restore normal vaginal pH and it also acts as a moisturizer for more comfort during intercourse.
3. Eat to get in the mood.
Aphrodisiacs aren't just something your hippie cousin told you about—there's some science to back up the popular notion that eating certain foods can have a positive effect on your sex drive. The mineral zinc may work as a libido-enhancer by helping with testosterone production, and oysters hold more zinc than any other food. Other good sources of zinc include red meat (which is healthy in moderation, especially if you go grass-fed), crab, and cashews. (Just be sure to skip these 8 eating habits that aren't doing your sex life any favors.)
4. Control your glucose levels.
Obviously you need to do this for your overall health, but your vagina will thank you for it, too. "Maintaining blood sugar in the normal range helps protect blood vessels, prevent nerve damage, and makes it easier for your vagina to fight off infections," Streicher says. That means ditching high-glycemic carbs in favor of whole grains, protein, and fruits and veggies. Paying attention to calories is also essential. "Taking in less food puts less demand on the insulin-producing cells so they're more efficient, as well as eliminating extra fat in the pancreas that inhibits insulin production," says David Kendall, MD, chief scientific and medical officer at the American Diabetes Association.
MORE: 13 Tips for Seriously Better Sex
5. Get moving.
Research shows exercise plays a role in reversing diabetes symptoms—and it also works wonders for your sex life by strengthening your heart, improving flexibility and stamina, and increasing blood flow to those all-important areas. No need to sign up for a marathon; low-impact workouts like yoga can increase circulation, even awakening sensation in areas where you may have experienced nerve damage, like your fingers and toes. Get started with these 9 yoga poses for better sex.
6. Use a sugar-free lubricant.
Lubricant should be a part of everyone's sexual arsenal, but diabetics need to watch which lubes they choose. "Some lubricants actually contain forms of sugar, such as glycerin and propylene glycol, which will throw off your vaginal pH and possibly trigger yeast infections," says Streicher. "The last thing you want if you already have higher levels of sugar in your vagina is to add more sugar to it." Check the ingredients list and choose a silicone-based lube.
7. Learn to love your body.
If you're like many people with diabetes, you've been advised by your doctor to lose weight—which can lead to some awfully critical feelings about your body. Not that you need to be diabetic to have those concerns: A recent study found that both men and women in long-term relationships reported feeling distracted by negative thoughts about their bodies during sex, and women in particular said they were worried about what their partner thought. To help quiet that nasty voice in your head, try these 5 ways to love lights-on sex.
8. Get some sleep.
Most Americans don't get enough sleep, and for diabetics, getting your zzz's is especially important. Sleep has been found to play a role in controlling blood sugar—one study found that regularly getting less than 6 hours of sleep a night made people three times more likely to have elevated blood sugar levels. If you have trouble sleeping, these simple tips can help.
9. Don't have sex.
If you're not feeling up to sex on a given night, there are other ways to maintain the bond with your partner. "Spicing up your sex life doesn't necessarily mean that you have to try a bunch of unusual positions," says Justin R. Garcia, MS, PhD, an evolutionary biologist at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction at Indiana University. "You can be erotic and sexual without engaging in sex." Doing something intimate that doesn't involve intercourse—whether it's cuddling during a movie, reading erotic literature, or splurging on a treat like a couples massage—can strengthen your bond.
10. Find a sexpert.
No one should have to live with less-than-stellar sex. There's help out there for you, but if you're diabetic it might just take a little extra searching. "The sexual side effects of having diabetes are real, but you may have a doctor who's not an expert in that area," says Streicher. "If your doctor is unable to address your concerns, start by checking out a university-based sexual clinic." If you don't have one in your area, the International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH) can help you find a qualified expert.