Sex...With a Side of Diabetes

Kerri Morrone1By Kerri Morrone

(reprinted with permission from Six Until Me)

(Cue sleezy saxaphone music, dimmed lights, and the extremely uncomfortable mental image of my mother reading this article.)

Even though I've been thinking about writing this post for a few weeks now, I can't keep the blush from creeping up my face. But I'm a twenty something, engaged woman, for crying out loud. There is a sexual element to my relationship. There is also a diabetes element to my sex.

I can't compare sex with diabetes to sex without diabetes. On the cusp of my twenty-first year with type 1 diabetes, there's not much of my life that I've lived without diabetes. Sex and intimacy dredges up a whole host of issues, diabetes notwithstanding. Is my body appealing? Am I feeling pretty? Do I think my arms /rear end /ears look fat in this shirt /skirt / hat? Will the cat just freaking stop pawing at our ankles?

Now add diabetes to the mix. Is my blood sugar at a stable level? Is there juice within reaching distance, in case of a low? Where is my pump infusion set these days? Can I disconnect easily or do I have to go foraging around for it? Whoops, watch those underwear on that infusion set ... don't want to tear it out by accident. Are the blinds closed? (Okay, so the last bit has nothing to do with diabetes, but it's crucial to make sure the blinds are drawn.)

Wearing an insulin pump adds a whole new level to sexual relationships. It's a machine. And yes, being healthy is sexy and there's nothing sexier than someone who is taking care of themselves, but once you have adjusted to that comfort level, it's still a machine. And it's attached to you at all times, even when you're feeling amorous. I've received a number of emails about sex and an insulin pump. Do I feel self-conscious? Is it awkward during moments of intimacy? Does it get in the way? Does he notice it? Are the blinds drawn?

I wear my infusion set on my thigh specifically to keep it out of my way – away from the waistbands of pants and skirts, away from the abdominal muscles I am working furiously to uncover, and away from my fianc's hugging arms. For me (I only speak for myself here), I feel sexier when my infusion set is safely adhered, working flawlessly, and out of my sight. Diabetes incognito – still well-managed, but not the focus.

Since I have been pumping – almost four years now – I have always disconnected my pump during sex. Whether it's off before anything starts in earnest, or whether I'm discreetly disconnecting it and tossing it underneath my pillow or on the bedside table, I am not wearing it during sex. (FYI - I also don't wear my pump while I exercise. And this is a form of exercise, no?) I also make sure I keep a pump cap on the site during intimate moments, to keep the sharp edges of the infusion set from scraping up against skin, blankets, etc. Occasionally, I've had the site get tangled up in the undressing moments, but it's never been an issue.

There have been a few occasions over the last few years when a low blood sugar has entered into my intimate moments. Instant mood ruiner, as my low symptoms are crying, sweating, confusion, and irritability. (Not a sexy scene, trust me.) Once or twice, I've had to stop everything completely and treat a hypoglycemic moment. This is a part of my diabetic sex life. I can't lie and pretend it hasn't happened, but I will say that it hasn't made a difference in my relationships.

Sure, there have been awkward moments where I've felt self-conscious about my "hardware." I've also felt self-conscious about my fingernails – it all depends on how the proverbial wind is blowing. Sex is a normal part of my life. So is diabetes.

I've asked my fianc a few times if he ever notices the infusion set or the pump or any of the diabetes paraphernalia in our sex life and he has honestly answered, "No." I've also asked him if he's lying about that. Again, and this time with a bit of a smile, "No, Kerri." I'm not sure if it's the way I handle my disease or if it's the way he handles it or if it's a combination of how we manage diabetes as a family, but it doesn't affect our physical relationship.

So long as the blinds are closed.

Last Modified Date: April 01, 2013

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Jamis Roszler
Janis Roszler

Janis Roszler, MSFT, RD, CDE, LD/N is the American Association of Diabetes Educators' 2008-2009 Diabetes Educator of the Year.  She is a certified diabetes educator, marriage and family therapist, and registered dietitian. Her books include Sex and Diabetes (ADA) Diabetes on your OWN Terms (Marlowe & Co) and The Secrets of Living and Loving with Diabetes (Surrey books).

Donna Rice
Donna Rice

Donna Rice MBA,RN,CDE,FAADE is the 2007 Past President of the American Association of Diabetes Educators. She is a registered nurse, diabetes educator and has developed numerous educational programs on sexual health and wellness.  She is the co-author of  Sex and Diabetes (ADA) and Diabetes and Erectile Dysfunction - A Quick ‘n' Easy Handbook For the Diabetes Educator (Bella Vita).  Her newest publication is a children's book, The Magic is Me (Searchlight Press).