Granted, being fit and fabulous can do oodles for your confidence in bed. But does that also mean being overweight spells doom for your sex life? Carrying around extra pounds can make it hard to keep up with your partner in bed. If your metabolism isn’t as good as it used to be when you were lighter – and if you’ve given up on exercise – you may simply not have the stamina for a roll in the hay. More importantly, for many overweight and obese people, self-confidence takes a severe beating, with a cascade effect on sex lives as well. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Your body goes through a slew of changes as you move up the body mass index (BMI) charts. From hormonal changes to an alteration in your arousal levels and sex drive, extra weight can pull you down in bed in many ways.
How Obesity Impacts Sex Life
When you are overweight or obese, niggling health problems like diabetes or heart problems tend to loom larger. However, the quality of your sex life might be another victim of the extra weight you’re carrying.
Dipping sexual desire, struggles with erectile dysfunction, and less than optimal sexual performance can take their toll. And by some measures, it seems that this impairment is worse for obese women. Take, for instance, a study that examined sex-life-related responses from both potential gastric bypass surgery candidates and residents of an intensive weight-loss program. Those who were more obese had the most impairment in their sex lives, especially among women. And the higher the BMI, the worse the impairment, with those test subjects with Class III obesity faring worst.1
Another study of older heterosexual couples found that a high BMI causes problems in keeping up an active sex life. Again, this was especially pronounced among obese women. Men’s obesity, on the other hand, was not found to significantly impact sexual activity levels.2
Commonly reported sexual issues among obese people include:
- Lack of sexual desire/sex drive
- Lack of sexual enjoyment
- Problems with sexual performance
- Avoidance of sexual acts
While these are noticeable effects, a host of physiological changes directly or indirectly play a role as well.
The Physiological Impact Of Obesity
Problems like poor circulation and cardiovascular problems can have a very real and tangible impact on your sex life. In addition, more directly linked issues like lower fertility and a lack of sex drive due to hormonal imbalance can also accentuate the problem. While not all of these may hinder every obese individual’s sexual life, these are the fairly widely recorded phenomena.
- Lower Sperm Count/Poor Semen Quality: Reports show that being overweight or obese can cause sperm count to drop in men. This impact on fertility may also creep into the bedroom and hamper sexual activity or cause frustration among couples trying to conceive. A study of the connection between male BMI and infertility among couples in the United States found that for both younger and older men, a higher BMI (obese/overweight) meant lower fertility.3
- Hormonal Imbalance: Being obese brings with it problems of hormonal changes, throwing the perfect balance of reproductive hormones out of sync. This translates to lower testosterone levels in men and lower levels of sex hormone-binding globulin(SHBG) in women. The result is a dip in sexual desire. SHBG impacts the balance in androgens and estrogens in the body, so lower levels of it in women can cause androgenization.4
- Poor Circulation/Cardiovascular Issues: Obesity is one of the leading causes of cardiovascular problems.5 The resultant issues with circulation can interfere with blood flow to the genital region as well. In fact, studies have found that erectile dysfunction is more prevalent among obese men than those of normal weight – another nail in the coffin of a flagging sexual life.6
The Psychological Effects Of Obesity
Obesity is closely linked to low self-esteem, depression, psychological disturbance, and a general lack of enthusiasm and drive. A poor body image can be detrimental to performance as well as to motivation and arousal in the bedroom. And as a special series on obesity on NPR (National Public Radio) seems to indicate, those who are obese and also trying to knock off those extra pounds are actually among the most dissatisfied.7 And it is this dissatisfaction with the body that might be partly to blame for not being able to perform in bed.
Pressure to perform in the bedroom while struggling with body image issues can be daunting. It is hard to focus on your partner and pleasure when all you can think of is covering up a less-than-flattering heavy part of your body.
As one study explains, infertility and obesity increase chances of psychological disturbances. And these psychological problems, in turn, can interfere with sexual lives. Additionally, mood disorders can also escalate hormonal disturbances, making infertility an even bigger issue.8
Solutions To The Problem
The only way to fix these problems is to change status quo. And while medicines can help with problems like erectile function temporarily, there is no miracle cure-all. A holistic lifestyle change is your best bet to improving your sexual life when you are obese.
- Lose weight, it is is the best way to get your body back on track. The closer you can get to a normal healthy BMI level, the better for your sex life. Getting to a slightly overweight or normal range, from obese, should help lower metabolic problems. As cardiovascular risk declines, circulation problems should also reduce. For instance, a study found that positive lifestyle changes, including weight loss through more physical activity and a better diet, resulted in improved sexual function among obese men who had erectile dysfunction.9
- Get active! The additional activity from physical exercise will get the blood flowing and put you in a better mood thanks to the release of happiness hormones like endorphins.
- Don’t forget to sleep well. Sleep restriction has been found to be closely linked to weight gain. If you don’t sleep enough, metabolic problems will start to crop up, some of which may heighten issues like insulin resistance you may already be more prone to due to the excess weight.10
- Eat right. Foods low in cholesterol and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables will help your cardiovascular health. Be sure to get your daily recommended levels of fiber and nutrients to keep your body working well.This will help overall metabolic health, which in turn will influence your sex life.
- Get your head in the right space. Indulge in a flight of fancy through books or a romantic movie. Start out small when it comes to initiating sexual activity with your partner and then build up.
|↑1||Kolotkin, Ronette L., Martin Binks, Ross D. Crosby, Truls Østbye, Richard E. Gress, and Ted D. Adams. “Obesity and sexual quality of life.” Obesity 14, no. 3 (2006): 472-479.|
|↑2||Kwon, Soyoung, and Markus H. Schafer. “Obesity and Sexuality Among Older Couples Evidence From the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project.” Journal of aging and health (2016): 0898264316645541.|
|↑3||Sallmén, Markku, Dale P. Sandler, Jane A. Hoppin, Aaron Blair, and Donna Day Baird. “Reduced fertility among overweight and obese men.” Epidemiology 17, no. 5 (2006): 520-523.|
|↑4||Hautanen, A. “Synthesis and regulation of sex hormone-binding globulin in obesity.” International Journal of Obesity & Related Metabolic Disorders 24 (2000).|
|↑5||Ouchi, Noriyuki, Shinji Kihara, Tohru Funahashi, Yuji Matsuzawa, and Kenneth Walsh. “Obesity, adiponectin and vascular inflammatory disease.” Current opinion in lipidology 14, no. 6 (2003): 561-566.|
|↑6||Bacon, Constance G., Murray A. Mittleman, Ichiro Kawachi, Edward Giovannucci, Dale B. Glasser, and Eric B. Rimm. “A prospective study of risk factors for erectile dysfunction.” The Journal of urology 176, no. 1 (2006): 217-221.|
|↑7||For Obese, Intimate Lives Often Suffer, National Public Radio.|
|↑8||Kocełak, Piotr, Jerzy Chudek, Beata Naworska, Monika Bąk-Sosnowska, Barbara Kotlarz, Monika Mazurek, Paweł Madej, Violetta Skrzypulec-Plinta, Piotr Skałba, and Magdalena Olszanecka-Glinianowicz. “Psychological disturbances and quality of life in obese and infertile women and men.” International journal of endocrinology 2012 (2012).|
|↑9||Esposito, Katherine, Francesco Giugliano, Carmen Di Palo, Giovanni Giugliano, Raffaele Marfella, Francesco D’Andrea, Massimo D’Armiento, and Dario Giugliano. “Effect of lifestyle changes on erectile dysfunction in obese men: a randomized controlled trial.” Jama 291, no. 24 (2004): 2978-2984.|
|↑10||Patel, Sanjay R., Atul Malhotra, David P. White, Daniel J. Gottlieb, and Frank B. Hu. “Association between reduced sleep and weight gain in women.” American journal of epidemiology 164, no. 10 (2006): 947-954.|