Sweet nothings: diabetes is wrecking sex lives and marriages

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Sweet nothings: diabetes is wrecking sex lives and marriages

Researchers stumble across a 'bedroom crisis' that goes beyond erectile dysfunction among type 2 patients across SA

Cape Town bureau chief


Lifestyle-related diabetes is wrecking sex lives across the country, researchers have found.
Type 2 diabetic men say “bedroom problems” are also destroying their self-esteem and jeopardising their relationships.
“My wife’s mistrust. That’s the saddest part of being a diabetic,” one man told a team led by Sara Cooper and Natalie Leon, of the Medical Research Council in Cape Town.
Their team stumbled across the sexual crisis when interviewing diabetics about the potential for an SMS service to improve the management of their condition.
“Male and a few female participants raised the issue spontaneously when asked about their experiences with diabetes,” said Cooper and Leon, who published their qualitative study of sexual wellbeing in men in the journal PLOS One on Monday.
The sexual difficulties men reported went beyond erectile dysfunction into the psychological and relationship realms.
“Low self-esteem, related to a sense of loss of masculinity and reduced sexual and emotional intimacy in partner relationships, were common experiences,” they said.
“Specific negative effects included suspicion of infidelity, mutual mistrust, general unhappiness and a fear of losing support from partners.”
The researchers interviewed men individually and in focus groups in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Lilongwe in Malawi. Many of them are quoted giving frank insights into how diabetes has undermined their intimate relationships.
“We are not real men any more. We have become children again, or else a friend of our wives,” one man said.
Another said his wife had become suspicious of him. “She thinks I’m having sex with other women. When my wife sees my performance she says things like: ‘Why are you so weak? Have you been bewitched by another lady? Did you have sex during the day? You think I’m a fool?’ ”
His wife’s suspicions were a heavy burden on another man, who said in an interview: “She thinks I’m seeing other women ... and it really breaks my heart ... that she’s become so mistrustful and is pushing me away because of this.
“If I was sleeping around, or being a bad husband, then I could understand my wife’s treatment. But it’s not my fault. I wish my wife could see that and not accuse.”
Cooper and Leon said that almost invariably the men found it embarrassing, awkward or difficult to discuss their sexual difficulties with their partners. One said he had tried, without success.
“I tried to make a light thing of it. I joked: ‘I’ll ask the doctor for pills to make me stiff for you.’ But she didn’t say anything. I could tell she didn’t want to talk about it.”
Even though an estimated 1.2 million men have type 2 diabetes, those in the study said the medical profession was not interested in their sexual problems.
Among the Cape Town and Johannesburg participants, in particular, there was “concern about bad treatment by healthcare providers, including feeling scared of being scolded, blamed or shamed”.
One man said: “You know how they are at the clinic ... they shout at you when you ask things, tell you to stop complaining. And sometimes even punish you for wasting time. So I’m scared to speak to the doctor.”
Another man said he told a nurse about his sex problems and she said: “Look at your health. You know why the boy down there won’t work. You don’t look after yourself.”
Cooper and Leon said: “What was striking was the gravity of the psychological and interpersonal effects of these sexual problems. An inability to live up to expectations of sexual performance was perceived as a form of emasculation.”
But some of the men in the study remained hopeful. One said: “I pray every day ... that one day I’ll wake my wife up and say: ‘Let’s do it’, and I’ll be able to. And she’ll once again see me as the man she married.”

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