Obesity and being overweight is now widely recognized as a major risk factor for chronic diseases such as diabetes and atherosclerosis. However, a less talked about issue people struggling with excess weight face is sexual dysfunction. Studies show that obesity is a risk factor for both male and female sexual problems. The negative impact of obesity on a person’s sex life contributes to depression and undermines well-being. But how exactly does obesity affect a person’s sex life? Well, to answer that question here is what research currently knows.
Around 312 million people around the world are obese. Obesity is a leading cause of death in the U.S. because this chronic disorder is frequently accompanied by hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia, atherosclerosis and other high-mortality diseases. There is a large body of evidence that the global epidemic of obesity is a result of societal changes such as a rise in sedentary lifestyle and promotion and availability of energy-dense food. However, genetics, medical conditions, and psychological factors may also play a role in the rise in obesity. While most studies on obesity have focused on its impact on overall health and the development of strategies to manage obesity, few have looked into how obesity could impact a person’s sex life.
Obesity and Sexuality
It’s no secret that obese and overweight people battle a host of complications due to their unhealthy weight. Arteriosclerosis, diabetes, hypertension, and depression are common consequences of obesity and all are known to cause sexual problems in themselves. Because obesity is sure to negatively impact a person’s overall health, it should be expected that it will also influence sexual functioning. Furthermore, social stigma and body image issues can cause psychological problems in overweight and obese adults that can also cause problems in overall sexual functioning. The widespread promotion of thin figures as being the only ones found sexually desirable can also impact a person’s sense of self so an overweight person might not perceive themselves as being sexually desirable.
Prevalence of Sexual Problems among Obese People
According to one study, around 79% of men with erectile disorders have a BMI over 25kg/m2 which would be considered overweight. Furthermore, the greater a man’s BMI, the greater his risk of erectile disorders. Another study examined daily life problems of obese men and women and found that 31% of the subjects reported problems with their sex life. The researchers compared these results with healthy-weight subjects among whom only 15% reported having problems in their sexual functioning. Furthermore, there is more data on male sexual problems than there is on female sexual problems mostly due to the lack of good enough research methods for measuring female sexual dysfunction.
Why Obesity Causes Sexual Dysfunction?
As already mentioned, obesity in itself is not so much of a cause of sexual dysfunction but rather the chronic diseases that accompany obesity. For instance, a link between coronary heart disease and erectile dysfunction is now well established. This is mostly because coronary heart disease is linked to endothelial dysfunction which causes poor blood flow to the heart and insufficient blood flow to the penis. Studies also show that sexual dysfunction is fairly common among diabetic men and women. This is because diabetes is a known risk factor for peripheral nerve damage. Damage to the nerves in sexual organs can lead to diminished sensory stimulation and as a consequence, poor sexual response.
Obesity was also found to seriously impact the levels of sex hormones in both men and women and this could have a direct impact on a person’s sex drive. A study published in the Annals of Medicine found that obese men had decreased testosterone levels. On the other hand, excessive androgens were observed in obese female patients in a separate study. Dyslipidemia which refers to unhealthy blood lipid levels is also a major contributing factor for sexual problems in obese men and women. However, some studies speculate that erectile problems may be a result of lipid-lowering drugs rather than unhealthy lipid level, but this is highly debatable. Psychological factors may also play a role in the occurrence of sexual problems in overweight or obese individuals but there is very little research on this topic.
Studies show that obese patients are more likely to complain of problems in the area of sex than are health-weight patients. Furthermore, obesity is accompanied by chronic diseases such as atherosclerosis and diabetes that are already known as risk factors for sexual disorders. Furthermore, obesity can impair a person’s well-being and functioning to the extent that it ruins a person’s sex life. Body image issues, depression, anxiety, and social withdrawal all cause problems in how overweight and obese subjects function in intimate relationships. However, with proper weight management, obese patients are more than likely to improve their overall well-being and sexual functioning.