Diabetes and Sex: When Hypoglycemia Gets in the Way


A number of people over the years (here, here, here) have talked about the complexity of diabetes and sex– that is, sex with an insulin pump, and how to handle infusion sets and tubing. But that part seems pretty straightforward to me — take off the pump, do your best to ignore the infusion set.

What I struggle with is this: how do you deal with the complexity of sex with hypoglycemia? That is, how do you say, “Wait, hold on, I can’t yet,” when sex comes a-callin’ but you know you’re going low? What do you do when you’re halfway through the deed, and you feel your knees get weak and your energy start to drain as your blood sugar begins to dip? What about those times you think you’ll be okay, but then things turn out more… energetic than you were expecting? Or when you finish and realize, shit, now I’m 40 and I feel it?

I hate that. Hate hate hate. One of my least favorite parts about diabetes is dealing with diabetes and sex.  It’s one of the surest reminders that I am not normal.

And I have it easy: I’ve been married for more than eight years. My husband gets it. Sure, it’s frustrating and disappointing at times, but he understands what’s going on. He can even tell I’m low before I can usually.

So what do I do? If I can tell I’m low beforehand, I try to eat a few quick carbs and delay, delay, delay without killing the mood. If I can tell I’m low during, finish as quickly as possible, and bail only as a last resort. And if I’m tanking after? Curse and correct.

But what in Aphrodite’s name do you do if you’re dating? Single? How do you explain to someone who hasn’t promised in-sickness-and-in-health that, hey, sometimes I’m too sick for sex? Or, better yet, how do you explain that the act of sex itself, in all its acrobatic glory, will drive you low and leave you weak and stranded? That, despite how hard I try, there will be times when I have to stop you, like the cruelest of teases, so that I can go down some sugar?

I suppose this is the second post in a row in which I whine about my first world problems. Boohoo, diabetes makes sex hard sometimes. You know what else makes sex hard? Being an amputee. Not having enough to eat. AIDS. AIDS makes sex hard.

So what right do I have to complain? None, I suppose. But maybe you’ve been in my shoes, and maybe we’re not alone, and maybe now we can know that.

Or maybe this is our pitch, as a disease community: cure diabetes, so that we can  increase the amount of sex people can have at a moment’s notice globally.

I thrash and I gnash, but in the end what I have to say is this: cheers to all the boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, and wives who are willing to delay la petit mort for the sake of the diabetic they love. (That means you, honey!)

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7 years ago

Yikes, what a formatting mess up there! :(

7 years ago

How do you explain to someone you’re not married to that sometimes you’ll be too sick for sex or that sex might give you a low that can end your fun prematurely?  By telling them just that!  If the person cares about you, even as just a friend, they should care enough to respect all your wishes when it comes to your sexuality AND your diabetes.  If they don’t respect your wishes, it’s time for a talk.  Or a new significant other if they refuse to respect you.  And if it’s sex with someone you barely know?  You don’t have… Read more »

Ginger Vieira
7 years ago

Karmel, you have an adorably impressive ability to mix humor and real life in a poignant and relatable article! I especially love the paragraph about “boo hoo, first world problems.” Nicely done.

7 years ago

I haaaaaaate, hate, hate, hate when people say they have no right to complain because bad things happen to other people.  

It’s annoying and a little condescending.

I’m complaining about diabetes.  I’m complaining about it loudly.  Stop trying to make me feel like I can’t. 

7 years ago

I think you have every right to complain too.  Your blog was so well written!

7 years ago

I love your use of “la petite mort”!

7 years ago

What right do we have to complain? Every right! It’s TOUGH going through life the way we do! I’m complaining, right here, right now!

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