Being fat can dampen your sex life, a new study suggests.
Obese men and women participating in a weight loss drug study reported that they were significantly less sexually satisfied than the general population. The study, published in the May issue of the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, also suggests women are less satisfied than men.
"Our findings contribute to a growing body of research that indicates obesity is associated with reduced sexual functioning and sexual quality of life," says study author Truls Ostbye, a professor in the department of community and family medicine at Duke University Medical Center, in a statement. (The findings about weight loss drugs have not yet been published.)
The study participants -134 women and 91 men - were all moderately to severely obese, with a body mass index (BMI) of at least 30, says study co-author Kishore Gadde, director of Duke's obesity clinical trials program. But none were so heavy that it would be physically impossible to be sexually active.
Participants, who were white, black and Hispanic, answered an in-depth questionnaire that evaluates sexual interest, desire, arousal, orgasm, satisfaction, behavior, relationships, masturbation and problems.
"The questions were very straight," Gadde says. "There were no words minced. We asked them about their desire, whether they would get aroused when they had thoughts and dreams or fantasies, are they satisfied with their sex life, do they have orgasms?"
The researchers compared the scores for the obese group seeking treatment to a group of cancer survivors studied in 2006 and a general population group. Gadde says obese men's satisfaction scores fell between the cancer survivors and the general population, while obese women scored lower than both groups.
"This is a study that confirmed a lot of what we already know, but it also adds to that literature. It studied both men and women; many weight loss studies are just in women," says David Sarwer, director of clinical services at the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He adds that racially diverse groups are not often studied in relation to sex and weight.
Sarwer says the study draws needed attention to an area most clinicians avoid, and not just with overweight patients.
"Sexual function is very much a 'don't ask, don't tell' area when it comes to health care," Sarwer says. "We need to connect with other people, whether that's psychologically or sexually. It's part of who we are, and when we begin to lose that, it can cause a lot of psychological stress in people."
For people who are uncomfortable with their body image, sexual intimacy is a challenge, Sarwer says. "People should realize sexuality is more than just intercourse. There's a tremendous amount of emotional value and benefit that can still come from holding hands, kissing, hugging - romance."