According to the 2020 National Diabetes Statistics Report, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 34.2 million Americans had diabetes. That translates into about 1 in 10 Americans living with a disease that impacts their bodies ability regulate blood sugar. High blood sugar can damage the body and lead to other serious diseases such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.

Men make up the majority of those diagnosed with diabetes in America, about 17.9 million according to the CDC. For men, diabetes can lead to issues that impact not just their overall health but also their ability to engage sexually with their partner. That’s because men who have been diagnosed with diabetes are three times more likely to experience erectile dysfunction.

Erectile Dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a condition experienced by about 30 million men in the United States, where they cannot get or keep an erection.  The prevalence of ED is higher in middle-aged and older men, but aging does not necessarily cause ED.  Aging just increases your chances of developing erectile dysfunction.  Other factors that can lead to experiencing ED are:  developing diabetes; use of tobacco or alcohol; certain medications; surgery that impacts the pelvic area; injury to the pelvic area; sleep disorders; damage to the blood vessels needed to sustain an erection; etc.

Remember, erectile dysfunction is a consistent pattern of experiencing difficulty getting and keeping an erection.  ED is not occasional difficulties in getting an erection (that’s actually pretty normal).  ED is also not less interest in sex (desire related issues), and it’s not problems with ejaculation (this may be a sign of structural issues and needs to be evaluated by a medical professional).  If erection difficulties are persistent, happen often, get worse, or are preventing you from engaging in life and relationships in a satisfying manner, it is time to get checked out by a professional to determine if you are experiencing erectile dysfunction.

How Diabetes Can Lead to Erectile Dysfunction

How can diabetes lead to erectile dysfunction? Because of the nature of diabetes and its impact on the entire body, it can lead to a person developing high blood pressure which can damage blood vessels. High blood sugar also damages blood vessels and nerves needed to have and maintain an erection. On top of that, some medications used to manage high blood pressure can cause erectile dysfunction. The nerve damage caused by diabetes can also lead to other problems in men, such as: overactive bladder; male incontinence; urinary tract infections; and other issues.

Impact on Quality of Life

Not only does diabetes impact a person’s overall health, but it also impacts their overall quality of life. Unfortunately, diabetes is often found along side with mental illness (depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and sexual dysfunction). This means that people who are diagnosed with diabetes are also likely to diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. Having to manage a physical health condition and a mental health condition can seriously impact a person’s ability to function and enjoy all aspects of life.

Evidence also suggests that men who experience erectile dysfunction along with diabetes have a lower quality of life. Several research studies have been completed to evaluate this impact on men’s overall quality of life when living with both diabetes and erectile dysfunction. The studies evaluated separate areas that make up a person’s overall quality of life. These areas included: physical, psychological, social/relational, environment, health satisfaction, and overall quality of life.

Results from these studies indicated that men who experience living with erectile dysfunction and diabetes have lower quality of life ratings in the domains of health satisfaction, physical, psychological, and overall quality. The evidence from these studies also points to men experiencing a loss of confidence in overall life and in their ability to function sexually.

Treatment Options

The good news is that both diabetes and erectile dysfunction are treatable. Althouth diabetes is chronic and often times involves lifetime management, it can be treated with the support and monitoring of your health care team along with implementation of healthy habits. The even better news is that 95% of erectile dysfunction is treatable! Treatment often involves talking to your doctor and following up with any specialists as needed. With your doctor’s help, you can determine the cause and severity of your erectile dysfunction, and then work on a plan for treatment.

Your doctor and you may discuss treatment options like the following: medication that can increase the blood flow to the penis; injections or a suppository that can be used right before sex and cause an immediate erection; or an implant that is placed inside the penis during surgery. These are the general treatment options. Other treatment options may be available to you based on your needs. Talk to your doctor to find out more.

How Therapy Can Help?

Therapy can also be a great option to help with any anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, or confidence issues that arise with men experiencing diabetes and erectile dysfunction. Men living with these issues need support and understanding to help them process changes to their body.

It’s common for men experiencing erectile issues to feel higher levels of stress and anxiety due to wanting to engage sexually with their partner, especially if they have been able to successfully get and maintain erections in the past. They may feel like they are letting their partner down, not pleasing their partner, are being judged by their partner, or like they have lost a part of their identity. Some men may begin to feel less masculine due to these erectile issues.

Therapy can help these men build their confidence, make a plan for improved management of any existing mental health issues, and help them and their partner work through any relationship or sex related issues. Therapy can help men dealing with these issues explore ways to talk to their partners about how diabetes and erectile dysfunction are impacting their life. Therapy can also help these men explore other ways to improve intimacy with their partner and how to have a satisfying sex life if erectile issues continue.

It’s important for men experiencing erectile issues to continue engaging in their relationships and even engaging in having sex or masturbating as sex is one of the ways that men can experience improved quality of life.