The Biggest Challenge to My Sex Life (That I Never Told You About)

I’ve been writing about sex in marriage for over seven years, with over 800 posts and three books. I also have a podcast with three other Christian sex bloggers and two Facebook communities. But in all that time, I’ve never told my readers the biggest ongoing challenge to my sex life. What is it?

Blog post title + heart-shaped labyrinth

My husband is a Type 1 diabetic. Has been for 38 years.

For those who don’t know the particulars of Type 1 diabetes, this means his body produces no insulin. Insulin is what breaks food down into sugar energy for the body’s use, so without his own supply, he must regulate the level of sugar in his bloodstream by managing the timing and levels of carbohydrates (sugars), injected insulin, and physical exercise.

How does this affect our sex life?

Too much sugar in the bloodstream, and one’s body and sex drive become lethargic. Too little sugar in the bloodstream, and one becomes anxious and sleepy. Neither condition supports a good, strenuous round of sexercise.

When faced with these circumstances, we have to put off sex until he can re-balance his blood sugar. The postponement could be only a few minutes, later in the day, or the next day. We miss out on spontaneity and frequency as we address his diabetes together.

So when someone writes me about their spouse having a chronic condition that impairs their sexual intimacy, I don’t just have sympathy for their situation — I have empathy.

No, I have never been through a spouse having cancer, or healing from a severe injury, or experiencing any number of other health issues that create obstacles to physical intimacy. But I know what it’s like to work your sex life around the complications of a chronic condition.

I know what it's like to work your sex life around the complications of a chronic condition. Click To Tweet

I know how it feels to wish you didn’t have to deal with that challenge. I know what it is to long that your sexual intimacy could be free of the condition’s constraints.

What advice can I offer, based on our experience? Every situation is different, but here’s how we have handled it so that we still enjoy healthy and satisfying sexual intimacy in our marriage.

1. Maintain health as much as possible.

My husband is a champ about managing his diabetes as much as possible, including diet choices that conform to his condition and regular exercise. I also make sure to help him when and wherever I can.

If you’re the spouse with a chronic condition, there are likely symptoms or consequences you cannot control, but also positive steps you can take to pursue health as much as possible. For the sake of yourself and your marriage, manage what you can. For women, I encourage to follow Calm.Healthy.Sexy., a blog from fellow podcaster Gaye Christmus which provides a lot of practical tips and positive encouragement for taking care of the body God gave you.

If you’re the supporting spouse, ask how you can help. Do you need to eat differently yourself or keep better choices in your pantry and fridge? Would it help to exercise with your spouse or support them in getting physical therapy or a gym membership? Does your spouse need help with ongoing treatments or medications? Please remember you’re married to an adult, but be a positive influence.

2. Adjust your expectations.

Am I disappointed sometimes when we have to forgo lovemaking? Yeah, I am. Maybe we don’t have the sex life we might if diabetes wasn’t the ever-present elephant in the room. But that’s okay — our sexual intimacy is still really awesome.

What expectations do you need to adjust? Is it how many times you’ll make love each week? Is it what counts as a sexual encounter? Is it dropping expectations that a climax will happen every time? Is it adjusting to the length of time it will take to get there?

Take into account the challenges you face with the chronic condition, and then ask what a great sex life will look like with that factor involved. It’s still a great sex life, and there is deep intimacy in taking care of one another as you make decisions together about your health and marriage bed.

3. Encourage one another.

Chronic diseases and conditions invade every aspect of your life and can be awfully discouraging. Which is one reason, among many, we should encourage one another.

And this should extend all the way to how the condition affects our marriage bed. If you’re the chronic condition spouse, encourage your beloved that you still find them attractive and desirable. Make sure they understand that when you struggle or cannot engage, “it’s not you” but the chronic condition getting in the way.

If you’re the supporting spouse, let them know you understand their challenges and you’re willing to coordinate with them for intimacy. Make sure you don’t transfer your discouragement onto your spouse, but rather be a voice of optimism and understanding.

4. Strike while the iron’s hot.

When my husband feels great and wants to have sex, I make an effort to be available. Those aren’t the only times we engage, but when all the train cars line up, so to speak, we want to jump on that engine quickly, before something could send it off track.

For you, this could mean engaging at different times of day, encouraging the chronic condition spouse to initiate when they feel good, helping the supporting spouse find ways to flip their ready-for-sex switch more easily. Perhaps even figure out what tried-and-true warm-up gets you both going, and be willing to use that agenda when opportunity arrives.

This isn’t just “take what you can get.” But rather, make the most of these moments. When they come, be grateful and enjoy your sexual intimacy as thoroughly as possible.

Our sex life would be easier if diabetes wasn’t a factor. But is it possible to create and nurture great physical intimacy despite the difficulties of a chronic condition? Most of the time, it is.

Still, it takes intention, grace, and perseverance. Though, really, those are traits every marriage bed should have anyway.

Is it possible to create and nurture great physical intimacy despite the difficulties of a chronic condition? Most of the time, it is. Click To Tweet

16 thoughts on “The Biggest Challenge to My Sex Life (That I Never Told You About)

  1. whoami

    Thanks so much for sharing so openly and all of the great ideas.

    Also tell your husband thanks for being open to you sharing with the world some of these personal challenges.

    Reply
  2. Anthony

    Hi JayJ,
    I never of course can know or lived with someone with your husbands condition.
    And i wanted to say so thanks for sharing – you are very brave and courageous woman and like myself have been empowered in a philantropic way even we don’t know that experience – that is only word to describe your sharing. We give the Lord all the glory when we see that our light has given hope to another victim, sufferer or whatever etc.
    I can share with you as my partner may read this, as have sent to her.
    That how can one offer sympathy when in relating to sex – if one partner does not feel the need as the other, only if they were to be in the same position – yes? That is so very seldom so easy to explain, even if i say it a 1000 times it does not make today- really know the answer.
    In my case it is been hard since my partner did not have normal conception due to not being able to birth naturally due to her own physical smallness there. This still continues today and always a either I or her initiate though there is no problem for me – i would never initiate knowing that it would hurt another as in this case. So years can go by without intimacy – and although frustrating and it comes out about problem – procrastination only happens. I sometimes need to assauge myself but this is never a good thing – as my earlier and teen life was a victim of sex-abuse. That just reminds me or i re-act and earlier event. This abuse was when only 2, and due to my mother who was mentally ill – touch by anyone at that age would be not seen as inappropriate, etc – if you understand as I have been my own Psychologist and later mid-life with Christ. These moments of calming myself – is through research – a child’s brian is not formed at 2yr old, late 5 yrs develops sense of self (ego) etc and the cortisol that sends chemical in the brain via cortisol recptors were not sufficiently made to fight the common 3 Fs – Fear-Fight-Flight and at my desparate times – my brain has not able to cope and is cloudy as cortisol dampens the 3Fs when one is in these moments. This does not happen for me. I have tryed to be honest as you were and want to say thanks again for sharing your story.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Child abuse just breaks my heart every time. I’m so saddened by what you experienced. May God comfort you. Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  3. Mrs. M

    Although I don’t have any illness as such, my husband and I would certainly be able to identify with you to some degree. I have dealt with extremely frequent, very hot flashes for over 11 years now; they have only become very slightly less extreme.
    And yes, before I go on and get all kinds of advice from others who have experienced these as well, I HAVE tried all methods of help you will likely want to suggest. Trust me, I know what I’m dealing with!! My doctor knows what is a health risk for me or not, and no, I’m sure I won’t be hearing about any new approach here at all. 🙂
    Now, on to what I intended to say. The first year was extremely hard for us to adjust to because the flashes were so very frequent but especially when I would even just THINK about being a new situation, something I’d forgotten, a quick movement or (and this was the worst) when I thought my husband might like to make an advance and I wasn’t sure I wanted it! Every. single. time. I’d break out in a hot flash! Then, for sure, I’d have to ask him to please wait until it subsided (which could take a while) and we’d try again, BUT in no time flat I could break out in a flash again! And there’s NO WAY you can comfortably stay skin-on-skin with someone at that point! Sometimes I’d try but it was so very difficult for me; I was burning! So, instead of giving many more examples of how the flashes overtook our life let’s just say that my husband was very patient. It took a fair bit of convincing, at first, that I couldn’t control it. Worse yet, he had to work hard to keep up his interest because his fire was easily quenched if it seemed like it just couldn’t happen, once again, but we always carried through. Sex really lost a lot of lustre for us at this point in our life until we had it figured out, but we worked at it! We weren’t going to let it destroy this part of our marriage and I’m so very glad that we have been able to adjust – both of us – even though it’s still something we have to dance around. A huge change of mind-set has to happen, and a whole lot of learning to give and take at yet another level, even when you’re at at time in your life where you feel you’re fairly comfortable with each other. You know what it did though? It has brought us even closer to each other, and that’s what God really wants in every marriage, praise Him!

    Reply
  4. Anonymous for my husband's privacy

    My husband had a prostate procedure just months before our wedding – he’s 20 years older than I am. We didn’t discuss it but I wondered if it would affect our sex life. Luckily for him, I had no experience prior to our wedding night, so I didn’t really know the difference, but as you may imagine it’s quite rare that we can have or have had anything like ‘normal’ PIV sex. Wow, I had a long learning curve. But, I love my husband and luckily, I really enjoy foreplay with him, and we have a very enjoyable marriage bed. As he’s said to me, “If I were younger it would have been over already”. So, as you said, just make the best of what is.

    Meanwhile, my prayers for your husband’s health.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous for my husband's privacy

    I just want to add – how self-confident men can be! He told me it never even occurred to him that the procedure would create any problems for us. Also, I am pretty sure we were married more than 2 years before we got to PIV, but he always denies this. I would have his parts against my leg and he’d say ‘it’s in’. I’m glad he was never conscious of that and never had to feel badly about himself or his manly powers!

    Reply
  6. mepharisee

    I wish the church would embrace our sinner, weakened, state more often. Church should be like an AA meeting. We are so afraid of confessing our issues, problems, predicaments, & sins. But, this post is a great example of how we are strongest when we are weak & vulnerable. I know disease is not sin, but it is a struggle to confess things that not everybody else deals with. God uses these times to shine into others lives. We ALL struggle. We are ALL weak, challenged, or different. If God can produce all this positive marriage sex from a marriage challenged by diabetes, He will do great things in any life challenge! That is awesome! That is worth celebrating! This is the Gospel of Jesus! Thank you. So refreshing.

    But, how will we know if we never hear tell of it?

    Thank you, HHH, for sharing. It is when God works at His mightiest!

    Reply
  7. Mark

    As we age, my spouse and I don’t know when the iron will be hot. Sometimes a couple of times a week, sometimes once a week or even longer.

    So as we build anticipation not knowing when that strike will occur, there is some spontaneity when we are intimate.

    I can also admit, that diet and health plays an important role as I notice when my weight is around 180 (or less) vs 195 I have more energy. (because of the remoteness of where we live, it is difficult to get the right balance of fruit and vegetables and meats) I gain the weight in the winter and lose it during the summer.

    We spend a lot of time cuddling and appreciating one another more than ever.

    One of the things some of us men experience, is our equipment can be rather temperamental and when we are honest about that, we take the pressure off of ourselves and our spouse.

    I say this, because my wife and I have a friend, whose husband blames her when his equipment “loses it” or doesn’t work the way it use to, which has been going on for 15 years when he was in his early 40’s.

    I vowed to my wife to never do this, but instead own it.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      I agree! Our bodies can be temperamental; I don’t why we think those particular body parts would be immune.

      Reply
  8. Mark

    Yes, it is a combination of mental and physical.

    For instance, a few years ago, we visited a church who’s preaching style we don’t really care. (he preached more on tithes and money) He liberally used the word “won’der’ful” (all the time) and in a way that is irritating.

    A day or so later my wife used that word during intimacy and blood stopped flowing and shrunk into a frightened turtle. Wasn’t her fault, that the word “won’der’ful” turned into a buzz word.

    We kind of laughed about it then and even now, she never used that word again, well at least not during intimacy,

    Reply
  9. Private to protect my man

    My husband has also been an insulin dependent diabetic with high blood pressure for 12 years. I have become the higher drive spouse. My primary love language is physical touch, his is acts of service. I get to give my honey a good rundown most every evening. He especially loves his feet being rubbed. I observe his mood, level of stress and health when he gets home from work. If it looks good, I will ask if he is in the mood for a good nibble (our code words for oral sex). If he is, I will make sure he has a very happy ending. He feels loved and valued. I am somewhat appeased. He will truly only be in the mood once or twice a month. We have not been able for PIC sex for about 6 years. When he feels good and I am not menstarting, WOW!!!!!! He goes to town. Every so often he will light the candles, turn on music, warm up the oil and give me a run down. Never a warning when he will bless me, it’s always a surprise. Yeah, I wish upon occasion for more. Then God reminds me of what all the wonderful things we have. By the way, he is also a cancer survivor. All of that to say. Be patient and focus on living your mate. God will meet your needs!

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      What a lot of challenges y’all have faced! But indeed, sexual intimacy can run the gamut and includes affection and care of our beloved. Thanks for sharing your story.

      Reply
  10. A

    I’m afraid that I wouldn’t have had the patience to wait two years before making sure PIV happened in my marriage! I would have straight up told my husband, “I can’t feel you inside, not there yet.” I wouldn’t let him believe a lie to protect his ego. I am too vested in openness in our marriage, and working together to fix the problem.

    Reply
  11. Wayne

    I can relate to what Mark said about aging as a factor, and I believe all of us can relate to physical conditions of one sort of another – we’ve all got ’em – without going to the other extreme of claiming “I know how you feel.”

    My wife and I are not so young anymore, though both in excellent health for our respective ages (she has ten years on me). We both have physical conditions and medical histories, of course, which I won’t get into with her, so I’ll share a little of mine. I had a potentially deadly illness as a small child, the kind that more often than not requires a kidney transplant, dialysis, or both. I have never had either one and don’t expect to, though I have lost more than one friend who has had one or both. No brag there; all my praise goes to God. My boast is in Him.

    Truthfully, most days I don’t even think about my condition, but does it affect my sex life? Oh yes. Especially, compound that with the aging factor I mentioned, and our differing levels of drive. It’s all just something I have to remember from time to time, for both of us.

    Thanks to you and your husband for sharing this. Your husband doesn’t sound like the kind of man who wants a big deal made of it, either way, but still, that can’t be an easy thing to make public.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Honestly, Wayne, that’s why I didn’t talk about it before: It was his health condition, and he liked to keep that on the down-low because he didn’t want to make a big deal of it. But after all this time, he decided it was both fine and worthwhile for me to talk about it here.

      Reply

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