Sex, Insulin, and Rock & Roll – with Strangers

Jim Turner, Christel Marchand Aprigliano, Anna Simos, and Nicole Johnson (l. to r.)
Jim Turner, Christel Marchand Aprigliano, Anna Simos, and Nicole Johnson (l. to r.)

Diabetes isn’t fun, but if you’re with the right people, it can be funny. Especially when sex is involved.

Wait…what?

I had the honor of being on a panel with some smart, funny people. “Sex, Insulin, and Rock & Roll,” sponsored by Insulet on Friday night at the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) annual convention in San Diego. We packed the house.

Who were those smart, funny people? Jim Turner, Anna Simos, and Nicole Johnson.

The audience was a glorious mélange of diabetes educators and people with diabetes. We were all there to explore how to have conversation about taboo subjects: sex, alcohol, body image, disordered eating, drugs, living real lives with diabetes.

I get to talk about taboo topics a lot with my tribe when we are at The Diabetes UnConference, but that’s private discussions amongst peers. It’s different when you’re sitting in a standing room only area (with apparently a long waiting list!) of mostly strangers. Thank goodness for the funny, smart people sitting next to me. And an extra thank goodness for the delicious beverages served.

#Sexpump

Insulet took a huge risk by allowing us to answer questions from the audience and to talk without restriction. While they sent out a survey before the panel asking what CDEs and PWDs (people with diabetes) wanted to hear about, you never know what could happen.

And I don’t think we or the audience disappointed. Like a public announcement that the Insulet Omnipod has a new nickname, stolen from a comment by Amy Tenderich of DiabetesMine: #sexpump. Jim ran with it and suggested it become part of the new marketing campaign for Insulet. (Please expect some forward thinking CDEs to mention #sexpump to their patients, tongue in cheek.)

Sex and Diabetes

Sex was the first topic we tackled. Questions from the survey included how to feel sexy with a pump, intimacy where spontaneity can result in lows or highs, and dating disclosures.  (But Anna won with her story of ripping off her Omnipod by accident during an intimate moment.)

Body image plays a huge part in intimacy. I shared that I don’t feel sexy with the bumps and lumps from years of injecting. (This elicited a “that’s so sad” from a CDE in the audience.) I said that’s OK, because I found a partner who appreciates the CGM and Omnipod attached to me . My husband is a sci-fi fan. I consider myself a cyborg these days, so I’m sexy Seven of Nine to him.

Disordered Eating

The packed audience.
The packed audience.

While there weren’t any specific questions posed beforehand, the survey showed that both CDEs and PWDs wanted to talk about disordered eating. As the only one with a history of diabulimia and disordered eating, I shared my story. It’s  important for CDEs to talk with their patients about signs and symptoms of disordered eating. (Some of us just needed someone to ask…)

Disordered eating with diabetes isn’t just diabulimia (skipping shots) It can and does include anorexia, bingeing, orthorexia, and bulimia. It’s scary to broach the subject and some CDEs may not know where to start, which is why I mentioned great resources, including WeAreDiabetes, Diabulimia Helpline, and DiabetesSisters.

Alcohol

Why bring up drinking with diabetes with young (and older) patients? Because telling them “just don’t drink” is a waste of breath for most of us; learn to drink responsibly with diabetes is a much better discussion.

Glucagon, while lifesaving in most situations when a person with diabetes has a debilitating low, is pretty much useless when you’re imbibing alcohol. (Your liver is too busy with the alcohol to respond to the glucagon.) This means you can’t just carry a glucagon kit and expect that you’ll be fine. (That was my tip.)

Jim shared a cautionary tale. After a night of adult beverages, food, and a stubborn high blood sugar, he took a second insulin injection and headed to bed. He awoke to paramedics and an inability to say who he was or who his wife was. A simple error was almost deadly.

Pregnancy

Nicole and I were the moms on the panel. Both of us shared experiences: hers with a pregnancy before CGMs were widely used and mine when diabetes was not the primary focus. I expressed a desire to have CDEs to share that women with diabetes can have healthy pregnancies and to work with their patients to get into that mindset.

I was told at Joslin when I was diagnosed that there was no reason why I couldn’t have a healthy baby, yet I hear women every day say they are told not to pursue motherhood because of diabetes. This shouldn’t happen.

A Thank You

We ran out of time, but not questions and certainly not laughter. These taboo topics need to be discussed and I hope that our panel provided some food for thought for the audience. I’m grateful for Insulet bringing us all together, the honesty of the panelists, and the questions asked by CDEs and PWDs. I hope that this is just the beginning of many…

(Disclosure: Insulet paid me to talk openly about my diabetes “life experiences,” although you know I’m not shy and often do so freely. I also wear an Omnipod; they do not sponsor me or pay me for that.) 

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