The Smart Woman's Guide to Diabetes
by Amy Stockwell Mercer
Copyright © 2012 by Amy Stockwell Mercer
Excerpt taken from Chapter 6: Dating, Sex, and Marriage
NOTE: Excerpts are provided on dLife.com for informational purposes only. The information contained within will not be updated by dLife and may be outdated. Please consult your doctor before acting on anything described here.
When to Talk About Diabetes With Your Date
Jennifer Ahn is fairly open with her diabetes when it comes to dating:
When I was dating, it would depend on how I met the person. I usually would let them know about my diabetes prior to meeting. If it was a blind date, however, I would refrain from telling them until it looked like it was going well. I met my current significant other (my fianc) online. After exchanging a few emails, I shared with him my background, as we were planning our first date and going biking. I didn't want him to be alarmed if something happened during the ride. He appreciated my openness and asked some questions, that is, what to do if something did happen, how it affected me, and so forth. He asked whether it was the one I took for or insulin. It wasn't a big deal to me. It was nice to have it out in the open. There was no shame or embarrassment.
For Lesley Hoffman Goldenberg, sharing her secret was a little more uncomfortable:
When I first started dating my husband, I was so nervous to tell him I had diabetes. We got drinks and then dinner for our first date, and I ate the entire meal and then snuck into the bathroom to give myself insulin. Not a good idea ––my sugar spiked up really high that night. For our second date, we went out o lunch and I did the same thing––ate two sushi rolls and took insulin like an hour later. I was on shots at the time, so it wasn't as easy as it is now with my pump. I decided to tell him on our third date. After discussing it with multiple friends and my mom for hours, I decided that straightforward, nonchalant, and simple was the way to go (ironically, those are three adjectives I would never, ever use to describe diabetes). Anyway, we grabbed slices of pizza, and I said, "By the way, I have diabetes and I take insulin before I eat. It's totally not a big deal, just wanted you to know." (Ha, not a big deal!) He said something really nice and sensitive like, "Oh, okay, I have a coworker with diabetes so I know a little bit about it. Thanks for telling me."
Ann Rosenquist Fee says that she has managed to keep diabetes out of the bedroom:
I was diagnosed just before my 3rd wedding anniversary. This summer, we'll celebrate our 25th. In those 17 years, diabetes has been less disruptive to my sex life than the glasses I wear at night, or the mouth guard I use to keep from grinding my teeth when I sleep.
I don't wear an insulin pump, so as long as I can tell the difference between the flush/sweat/rapid pulse of lust and the flush/sweat/rapid pulse of hypoglycemia (I usually can and in case not, I've got glucose tablets in a drawer right next to the lube), diabetes stays out of my bed.
How does a woman feel sexy with a plastic pump attached to her legs, lower back, stomach, or arms? When your husband, boyfriend, or girlfriend puts their hand around your back, how do you feel when they brush against your pump? Do the bruises on your stomach from injections make you feel less desirable? Does the extra weight make you want to dress in loose, less revealing clothing?
Having sex for the first time can be an exciting, embarrassing, and overwhelming event. For young women with diabetes, the fact that we have to think about our blood sugar and/or medical supplies getting in the way can create additional feelings of self-consciousness. Diabetes may keep some women from rushing into having sex, whereas diabetes may act as a catalyst for others. For the rest, like Ann, diabetes won't make a difference under the sheets at all.
My personal theory is that in order to feel sexy and fully enjoy sex, we need to feel pride instead of shame when it comes to our physical selves. I think, many women with diabetes are often at war with their bodies. We deny ourselves of food in order to be thin, beat ourselves up when we eat more than we think we should, and when we look in the mirror, we only see things we don't like. As women with chronic illnesses, we are constantly "battling" our bodies into submission, we are "waging a war" against blood sugars, and war is not sexy. We treat our bodies like scientific experiments, and our sexual satisfaction will not increase when we learn to be kind to ourselves and honor our physical selves. Having good sex and feeling sexy doesn't come naturally for a lot of women, and if we want to get good at it, it'll take practice. We need to learn to visualize our physical selves as healthy, strong, and sexy.
Research has shown that up to 35% of adult women with type 1 diabetes report sexual dysfunction. Dr. Albright says there is not a lot of research about women, diabetes, and sexuality. " It appears as it is not as much about the complications or the blood sugar-blood pressure relationship that affects sexuality. It is shaped much more by confidence in yourself and by depression, and your relationship with your partner."
Lesley Hoffman Goldenberg says that there were a lot of other things to be self-conscious about, aside from wearing a pump.
Rachel Garlinghouse says that diabetes has taught her how important it is to take care of and be king to her body:
I have curves and a healthy, able body. The most important thing is good health––not a number on the scale or a dress size. I appreciate how hard my body works with me, and I don't get caught up in insecurities, which will only hamper my diabetes progress. I have far too much going on in my life to stand in front of the mirror and pick out what I don't like about my body.
Diabetes educator and type 1 diabetic Claire Blum says:
I believe it is important for women to know that decreased sex drive is not necessarily a part of having diabetes. There is conflicting evidence regarding the impact of blood glucose control and sex drive…but there are many variables in the research that have not been controlled for... including the variability of blood glucose (something we see mentioned a bit more now that people have CGM and are learning how to decrease that variability)…and there is evidence that improved glucose control is an important aspect of sexual health.
The endocrinologist that I work with tells women that sexual interest and sex drive are a sign of health...which of course includes the integration of mind, body, and soul…or balance. Good nutrition is an aspect of health that is often neglected with diabetes…with so much emphasis on taking the right amount of insulin and BG management...many women do not realize the importance of proper nutritional intake.
This is one of the areas where I believe proper education and support is of utmost importance. Even though surveys and research may show that women with diabetes often experience a decrease in libido…it is important to recognize that a decrease in sexual desire is not an inherent outcome of diabetes. We can be as healthy, if not healthier, than women who do not have diabetes, Sexual desire is a sign of health, and sensuality, a state of mind that is nurtured when we find balance in care of our body-mind-soul.
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It's been a roller coaster week for me - both in terms of stress levels and bloodsugars. I have had some real high points - feeling positive and happy and just generally great - and I've had some moments of pure panic, stress and bad decision making. Although I know that stress is likely causing the ups and downs of my sugars as well, it really is kind of a chicken and egg thing, isn't it? For example, on Sunday I spent the day in a really great place in terms of bloodsugar...