Obesity hurts our sex lives


It is well established that obesity can negatively affect a person’s quality of life, health and life expectancy. New research, however, suggests that it is also bad for a person’s sexual health.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, looked at the sexual behaviour of over 12,000 French men and women aged between 18 and 69 years of age.

Amongst women, the researchers found that obese women were 30% less likely to have had a sexual partner in the last 12 months, but that the rate of unplanned pregnancies amongst obese women was 4 times higher than amongst their normal-weight counterparts. In addition, obese women under the age of 30 were less likely to ask for advice about contraceptives, or use oral contraceptives.

Obese men were 70% less likely than normal-weight men to have had a sexual partner in the last 12 months, but were more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction or sexually transmitted diseases. Obese men under 30 were, particularly, more likely to have a sexually transmitted disease.

The research also revealed other information, including that obese women were more likely to have met their partner through the internet.

The paper’s authors urged clinicians not to shy away from discussing sex and weight issues with their patients – something which, research has shown, they often find difficult.

The SMC went to local experts for comment.

The paper can be accessed in the SMC Resource Library.

Professor Jennie Connor, Head of the Department of Preventative and Social Medicine at the University of Otago, comments:

“This is a useful study that should raise the awareness of those delivering sexual health services that overweight and obese women are not only sexually active and in need of the services they provide, but that they are less likely than others to seek assistance – with predictable consequence of more unintended pregnancies.

“While the origins of their marginalisation from mainstream services may be their experiences of stigmatisation and therefore low self esteem, service providers (and educators) need to be careful not to promulgate the same stereotypes and further marginalise young overweight women. Public health practice and health services should aim to minimise any barriers that already exist.”