The connection between diabetes and erectile dysfunction among men is well established. But, as a study in the August issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology (the journal of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) notes, less is known about that disease’s effect on women’s sexual function.

To get a better handle on that relationship, researchers at the University of California in San Francisco surveyed 2,270 women ages 40 to 80 about their sex lives – including sexual desire, frequency of sexual activity (including masturbation), overall sexual satisfaction and problems such as lack of lubrication, pain during sexual activity or inability to achieve orgasm. In this racially and ethnically diverse group, 486 women had diabetes; of those, 139 were taking insulin to treat it. The study did not distinguish between those with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes but, given the women’s age, assumed most had Type 2 diabetes.

They found that when it came to sexual desire and frequency of sexual activity, there were no differences among the three groups of women (those with diabetes, those on insulin and those who did not have diabetes). But sexually active women who used insulin were more than twice as likely as non-diabetic women to have lubrication problems and 80 percent more likely to have trouble achieving orgasm.

Diabetic women who had complications such as heart disease, renal dysfunction or peripheral neuropathy were associated with decreased sexual activity and decreased sexual satisfaction.

The findings held after data were adjusted for other medical conditions and demographic status. The study did not look specifically at the role depression may have played, but it did control for the use of SSRIs, medications commonly used to treat depression that are also known to negatively affect sexual function.

The study cites American Diabetes Association figures showing that 12.6 million women -- 10.8 percent of all women age 20 years or older -- have diabetes. The authors note that the relationship between diabetes and women's sexual function needs more research. Still, they argue, physicians might want to talk with their diabetic patients about their sexual function.