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How Does Obesity Affect Sexual Function?

Jun 27, 2017

How Does Obesity Affect Sexual Function?

Obesity rates are increasing around the world. In fact, an estimated 1 billion people are considered overweight, and 300 million are obese.

Past research has shown an association between obesity and sexual problems. But just how does obesity contribute to sexual dysfunction? To address this question, researchers reviewed scientific databases and published their findings in Sexual Medicine Reviews.

They explained several ways extra weight might lead to sexual problems:

  • Biological mechanisms. Having excess fat tissue can disrupt hormonal and chemical processes needed for good sexual function. For example, fat tissue may be linked to lower levels of an enzyme needed for the production of nitric oxide, an important neurotransmitter for erections.
  • Comorbidities. Many obese people also have conditions that can cause sexual dysfunction, including metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and heart disease. For instance, men with diabetes are more likely develop erectile dysfunction (ED) than non-diabetic men. And they often start having trouble with erections at an earlier age. Diabetic women often have trouble with desire, arousal, and vaginal lubrication.
  • Psychological and emotional factors. In many cultures, “thin is in.” Obese men and women might be viewed as unattractive and are often the subject of cruel jokes and discrimination, which can damage their body image and self-esteem. Their ability to participate in everyday activities might be restricted by their weight. Or, they may shy away from socializing or seeking sexual partners. Overall, depression and anxiety related to obesity can take a toll on sexual health.

Often, a combination of factors is involved. For example, an obese man with ED might feel self-conscious about his weight and his erection troubles. He may also feel anxious about his attractiveness and about pleasing his partner. Thus, both physical and psychological factors can contribute to his ability to perform sexually.

Can weight loss help? It might. Following a healthy diet and exercising regularly can help lower one’s risk for diabetes and heart disease, which in turn could improve sexual function. Studies of bariatric surgery and sexuality have had encouraging results.

The review authors called on healthcare providers and therapists to address sexual health concerns in overweight and obese patients.

“Not only might they – in a non-castigating and supporting manner – point out the biological and psychological effects that decrease the desire for sexual engagement and sexual response, but they also are well-positioned to discuss other health-related complications from obesity,” the authors wrote.

Resources

Sexual Medicine Reviews

Rowland, David L, PhD, et al.

“Sexual Function, Obesity, and Weight Loss in Men and Women”

(Full-text. Published online: April 26, 2017)

http://www.smr.jsexmed.org/article/S2050-0521(17)30036-7/fulltext