Older Women with Diabetes More Likely to Experience Sexual Dissatisfaction
Diabetes recognized risk for erectile dysfunction in men, but almost no data to indicate whether it affects sexual
function in women
July 25, 2012 - Women with diabetes age 40 to 80 in this study - are just as likely to be interested in sex and engage
in, sexual activity as non-diabetic women, but they are much more likely to report low overall sexual satisfaction, according to a UCSF study.
The researchers also found that diabetic women receiving insulin treatment were at higher risk for the specific
complications of lubrication and orgasm.
"Diabetes is a recognized risk factor for erectile dysfunction in men, but there have been almost no data to indicate
whether it also affects sexual function in women," said senior author Alison J. Huang, MD, MAS, of the UCSF Women's Health Clinical Research
Center and an assistant professor in the UCSF Department of Medicine.
Huang, lead author Kelli Copeland, BA, of the UCSF Women's Health Clinical Research Center, and their colleagues sought
to examine the relationship of diabetes to sexual function in an ethnically diverse group of middle-aged and older women.
The disease has the potential to affect sexual function in women through a variety of mechanisms. These include vascular
changes in the urogenital tissues affecting lubrication, and alterations in genital arousal response. Sexual function also may be adversely
affected by diabetes medications or other interventions directed at monitoring or treating the disease, according to the research team.
The researchers sent a questionnaire to 2,270 women aged 40 to 80 years who were insulin-treated diabetic,
non-insulin-treated diabetic or non diabetic women. They then compared the self-reported sexual desire, frequency of sexual activity, overall
sexual satisfaction, and specific sexual problems (difficulty with lubrication, arousal, orgasm, or pain).
They also assessed the relationships between diabetic end-organ complications (heart disease, stroke, renal dysfunction,
and peripheral neuropathy) and sexual function.
Among the 2,270 participants, 486 (21.4 percent) had diabetes, and, of those, 139 (6.1 percent) were taking insulin.
Overall, 63.7 percent of participants reported some sexual activity in the past three months.
The odds of reporting low overall sexual satisfaction were more than two-fold higher in insulin-treated diabetic women,
and more than 40 percent higher in non-insulin treated diabetic women, compared to non-diabetic women.
No significant differences in sexual desire or frequency of sexual activity by diabetes status were observed, after the
investigators took into account other differences in participants' demographic background and medical histories.
Among sexually active women, insulin-treated diabetic women were more than twice as likely to report difficulty with
lubrication, and 80 percent more likely to report difficulty achieving orgasm compared to non-diabetic women, after adjusting for the same
demographic and clinical factors.
Among all diabetic women, end-organ complications such as heart disease, stroke, renal dysfunction, and peripheral
neuropathy were associated with decreased sexual function in at least one domain.
The study did not examine whether the women had Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, but the researchers assume that because of age
of diagnosis, and when they started insulin, that the majority of participants had Type 2 diabetes.
Previous studies have suggested that psychological factors, such as depression, play a role in sexual dysfunction among
diabetic women. The UCSF team did not assess the impact of depression on female sexual function in this study, but did adjust for
antidepressant use among participants since it can worsen sexual function. The team found that relationships between diabetes and sexual
function were independent of anti-depression therapy.
Diabetes is a common chronic condition in the United States. According to the American Diabetes Association, 12.6 million
or 10.8 percent of all women aged 20 years or older have diabetes.
"Based on this research, clinicians may want to consider assessing diabetic women for sexual problems, particularly among
those taking insulin, and counsel them that prevention of end-organ complications may be important in preserving sexual function," said
The researchers used data from the Reproductive Risks of Incontinence Study at Kaiser 2, comprised of women enrolled in
the northern California Kaiser system, in addition to the Northern California Kaiser Permanente Diabetes Registry.
Co-authors are Jeanette S. Brown, MD, and Leslee L. Subak, MD, of the UCSF Women's Health Clinical Research Center and
the UCSF Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences; Jennifer M. Creasman, MSPH, of the UCSF Women's Health Clinical
Research Center; David H. Thom, MD, PhD, of the UCSF Department of Family and Community Medicine; and Stephen K. Van Den Eeden, PhD, and
Assiamira Ferrara, MD, PhD, of the Division of Research, Kaiser Permanente Northern California, Oakland, California.
Funding for the project was provided by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Huang also
is supported by an award from the National Institute in Aging and the American Federation for Aging Research. No authors report any potential
conflicts of interest related to this research.
UCSF reports to be a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research,
graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care.