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Celiac Disease Can Affect Your Sexuality

Potential Negative Impact on Interest in Sex, Sexual Satisfaction

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Updated October 23, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Research shows that celiac disease — especially undiagnosed celiac disease — can affect many aspects of your reproductive health.

Women suffer a wide array of reproductive disorders related to celiac disease, including increased risks of infertility, miscarriage and other pregnancy problems. Although far less research has been done to document the reproductive health affects of celiac disease on men, what few studies there are indicate that male infertility is higher among undiagnosed celiac men.

But can having undiagnosed celiac disease affect your sexuality and your sexual satisfaction? Although available research is, again, scanty, the answer appears to be yes.

Celiac Disease Effects on Sexuality Include Frequency, Satisfaction, Studies Find

One study on celiac disease and sexuality looked at sexual behavior in just-diagnosed celiac disease patients, and then revisited them a year later to see what, if anything, had changed. The researchers also compared the celiacs with non-celiac control subjects.

Patients just diagnosed with celiac who hadn't yet adopted the gluten-free diet had a significantly lower frequency of intercourse when compared with controls. They also reported far less satisfaction with their sex lives, the study reported.

However, like so many other celiac disease symptoms and complications, these sexual problems reversed once the individuals began following the gluten-free diet; one year after diagnosis, the study subjects reported a significantly higher frequency of sexual activity, plus significantly enhanced satisfaction with sex.

Second Study Finds Similar Links Between Celiac Disease and Sexuality

Another study, this one on grown-up celiac children, also found similar links between celiac disease and sexuality.

The researchers surveyed three groups of young adults, all of whom had a biopsy "suggestive of celiac disease" in childhood. Some had followed the gluten-free diet since being diagnosed in childhood, some had adhered to a gluten-free diet for a year or more after diagnosis but then had reverted to a gluten-filled diet, and some had never followed the gluten-free diet.

Those in the "never gluten-free" group had decreased frequency of intercourse — fewer than six times per month, compared to nearly seven times per month in the group following the gluten-free diet continually and nearly nine times per month in the "transient" gluten-free diet group.

The "never gluten-free" group also reported less interest in sex — 18% said they had low interest in sex, compared with 13% of the gluten-free diet group and 11% of the "transient" gluten-free diet group.

All three groups had about 3% of people reporting difficulty attaining orgasm and fewer than 1% of people reporting painful intercourse. A total of 72% of continually gluten-free celiacs, 71% of never gluten-free celiacs, and 89% of transient gluten-free celiacs said they were satisfied with their sexual lives.

The researchers also noted that "the psychological attitude of young adults with coeliac disease before dietetic treatment can be described as a low-energy mood that interferes with the general perception of quality of life."

Adherence to Gluten-Free Diet May Help Your Sex Life

Both of these studies indicate that your sex drive improves and you have sex more often if you're diagnosed celiac and follow the gluten-free diet.

Of course, celiac disease can interfere with your sex life in other ways, some of which can kill the spontaneity (and perhaps your libido, too). For example, you can't kiss someone wearing gluten-containing lipstick without risking getting sick if you're celiac, and it's wise (imperative, in fact) to ask a gluten-eating (or beer-drinking) partner to brush his or her teeth before kissing you.

However, given the choice between feeling constantly fatigued and having little or no sex drive, and having to do a little advance planning in order to have a fun romantic interlude, my guess is most celiacs would choose the planning ... and the interlude.

Sources:

C. Ciacci et al. Grown-up coeliac children: the effects of only a few years on a gluten-free diet in childhood. Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics. Feb. 15, 2005, pp. 421-9.

C. Ciacci et al. Sexual Behavior in Treated and Untreated Coeliac. European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. August 1998, pp. 649-51.

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