"It's an area that is very understudied, particularly in older women," said Dr. Alison Huang of the University of California, San Francisco, who led the new work.
Based on a survey of nearly 2,300 California women aged 40 to 80 years, Huang and her colleagues found that more than a third of those on insulin treatment said they were "moderately" or "very" sexually dissatisfied.
About a quarter of diabetic women who weren't on insulin reported similar levels of dissatisfaction, whereas less than one in five women without the disease did so. The gap remained after the researchers accounted for a variety of factors, including age, race, relationship status, overweight and estrogen treatment.
"The diabetic women in the study had more sexual problems, but they were just as interested in sexual activities and had a similar level of sexual activity as women without diabetes," she told Reuters Health.
About six percent of the women in the study were treated for diabetes with insulin, whereas 15 percent had the disease but did not get insulin. The rest did not have diabetes.
"I think these results do suggest that if you are a diabetic woman, preventing complications may help prevent development of sexual problems," said Huang. She said following a diabetic diet and getting regular exercise will lower the risk of complications.
There could be many reasons why diabetic women would have more sexual problems. While the issues in diabetic men are often believed to be tied to cholesterol buildup in the arteries that supply blood to the penis, Huang said, blood flow problems are less likely to be at work in women.
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