Diabetes Technology and Intimacy

The first time that my fiancé Richard and I got, um, “intimate,” I had some explaining to do. “Er, that’s for my diabetes. So’s that. And this thing. Oh, and this too.” Richard was a bit overwhelmed. I think his exact words were, “Are you bionic or something?”

My diabetes technology – insulin pump, continuous glucose monitor (CGM), and blood glucose meter – helps me manage my diabetes very discreetly on a daily basis. But on a nightly basis, the pump or CGM receiver has a tendency to beep or vibrate at just the wrong time. I knew Richard had potential the first time we were rudely interrupted by a vibrating “reminder” from my pump: he chuckled and asked if I was okay.

Several years ago I wrote an article about my life with a pump (“No, It’s Not A Beeper, It’s My Insulin Pump, Medscape.com, July 2003).  In the article I mentioned that sometimes guys asked me about the pump as a pick-up tactic. Now that pumps have become more common, I get more comments from airport security staff on my CGM transmitter than questions from men about my pump. I have to remember that just because I’ve had a pump for over 13 years doesn’t mean everybody knows about them.

When Richard and I started dating a year-and-a-half ago, I didn’t give him a detailed explanation of the devices I use to manage my diabetes. Having had type 1 for almost 18 years, I have cultivated “diabetes discretion” as a superhero power. I don’t usually go to the restroom to check my blood sugar or program a bolus. Rather, I am so quick and stealthy that people hardly ever notice. I don’t care if they see – every question is an opportunity for education – but I don’t want my diabetes to steal the show when I’m with friends or colleagues. In my relationship with Richard, however, a bit less discretion would have been all right.

For several months it didn’t cross my mind that Richard might want to know more about my “beeping thing” (CGM), “attached thingy” (insulin pump), and “pricky thing” (blood glucose meter). We had been together for about half a year when he gave me his interpretation of how my diabetes technology works. He thought that the CGM receiver and transmitter were a tubing-free insulin pump system and that my insulin pump was the CGM. Oops. I apologized for not explaining everything properly. He reassured me, “It’s okay. You just handle everything so well that diabetes seems like a small part of your life. I just want to know in case there’s ever anything I need to do.” I swooned. Diabetes is in fact a pretty big part of my life, but mostly in my head.

Over the last year, Richard and I have had both serious and silly conversations about diabetes. Once we had discussed the potential medium- and long-term implications of my diabetes, we could joke about it. He’s pleased that my pump, CGM, and iPhone are the only things in the bedroom that vibrate. He says, “I think this is yours,” when he hands my pump to me after rolling onto it in bed. “Melissa: comes with accessories; batteries not included,” is another recent gem.

He’s a keeper, but I’ve advised him to stick to his day job.