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?
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