For obese men and women who report sexual problems, weight loss of approximately 10% may do wonders for their love lives, according to Duke University psychologist Martin Binks. Dr. Binks, who presented his research findings at the recent annual meeting of The Obesity Society in Vancouver, British Columbia, reported that weight loss improves the sex lives of some obese individuals by reducing their negative feelings about their sexuality and helping them feel better about their bodies.
The Effects of One Year of Weight Loss
In the study, Dr. Binks and his colleagues met with 161 obese women and 26 obese men every three months for two years to ask a series of questions about the quality of their sex lives. Each participant answered questions about feelings of sexual attractiveness, frequency of sexual desire, reluctance to be seen undressed, sexual performance, avoidance of sexual encounters, and enjoyment during sex. All participants were actively involved in a weight loss program during the course of the study.
In the initial interviews, men and women both described significant problems in all examined areas of their sex lives. Interestingly, however, both men and women reported striking improvements in these problems one year later, after losing an average of 12% of their initial weight (for example, if a 250 lb. man lost 30 lbs).
At the beginning of the study, more than two-thirds of all women felt sexually unattractive and did not want to be seen undressed, but after one year of weight loss, only one-third of the women expressed these feelings. In addition, although 21% of women reported not enjoying sex at the beginning of the study, only 11% said so one year later, after their significant weight loss.
Overall, improvements in participants’ sexual quality of life were directly related to weight loss, and reached their peak at a weight loss of about 12%, with only small incremental improvements noted thereafter. Though the small number of men in the study limits conclusions that can be drawn about the effect of weight loss on sexual attitudes and sexual problems among men, many of the men in the study did report feelings of unattractiveness and unwillingness to be seen undressed that improved dramatically with significant weight loss.
How Weight Loss Helps
Many physical factors are likely at play in the impressive improvements in libido and other aspects of sexual quality of life reported with weight loss among the men and women in this study. Medical problems such as poor circulation, high cholesterol levels, and insulin resistance (a strong risk factor for type 2 diabetes) have been associated with sexual performance problems that can undermine desire among both men and women. These medical problems improve when people lose weight, and sexual performance and self-image reap the benefits. Also, obese men and women make more of a natural body chemical called SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin) that binds to and inactivates testosterone, an essential part of the body chemistry of arousal for both men and women. So, when SBGH levels rise in obesity, less testosterone circulates in the bloodstream, and libido hits a lull.
The research findings described by Dr. Binks and his colleagues add to a growing body of information about the relationship between body weight and sexual health. Related studies have reported diminishments in self-esteem and other aspects of life quality among obese men and women.