If you've tried everything from self-hypnosis to a personal life coach who scrutinizes every morsel that enters your mouth but you still can't stick with the program and shed unwanted pounds, I may have just the motivation you need. What if I told you that losing weight could improve your sex life?
As they say, now that I have your attention. . . In October 2005, Duke University psychologist Dr. Martin Binks presented to the Obesity Society his study in which it was determined that up to
30% of obese people seeking help controlling their weight indicated problems with sex drive, desire or performance, or all three.
(1) Binks suggested these difficulties are in part a result of medical conditions like high cholesterol and insulin resistance (which can lead to type 2 diabetes), which often accompany obesity. Such conditions cause poor blood flow due to narrowing of clogged blood vessels which directly affects the functioning of the genitals in both men and women.
Often, poor circulation means
poor sexual performance.
Adding insult to injury, most of the medications prescribed to treat medical conditions related to obesity can interfere with sexual function. Among them are anti-hypertensives such as diuretics, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and anti-adrenergics; anti-androgens; and, anti-depressants and sedatives. (In other words, you don't feel sexually attractive because you're obese, you're depressed because you don't feel sexually attractive, you take anti-depressants because your depressed, and the anti-depressants inhibit your sexual desire and enjoyment even more. How depressing.)
Another contributing factor, says Dr. Binks, is that the greater the percentage of body fat the higher the levels of a natural chemical called "SHBG" (sex hormone binding globulin), which binds to the sex hormone
. (Note: Testosterone has been shown to play a key role in sexual desire for both men and women.) SHBG ties up the testosterone, so to speak, so that less is available to stimulate desire. In other words,
being overweight usually means less fun between the sheets
A LITTLE CAN MEAN A LOT
The good news is that even a small to moderate amount of weight loss, i.e., 10-12%, can produce a substantial increase in sexual interest. Plus, when Binks' subjects didn't lose weight but were able to get their blood sugar, insulin, blood pressure and triglycerides under control, they reported similar positive results. So for those of you who hate to diet, not to worry. It's not necessary to become obsessed with losing a large amount of weight before sex gets better.
WHAT'S BODY IMAGE GOT TO DO WITH IT?
The study involved 161 women and 26 men, average age 45, with an average
BMI (body mass index)
of 41. (Note: a score of 30 or above is considered obese.) All participated in a diet program at the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis and lost on average 17.5 percent of their body weight after one year and 13 % after two. Dr. Binks and his team also examined the relationship between the mental/emotional problems reported by obese subjects and their difficulties with sexual intimacy. Subjects were asked questions about the quality of their sex lives at the beginning of the study and every three months for the duration. At the outset,
68% of women reported feeling sexually unattractive
. A year later, only 26% felt that way. In addition, 21% of the women said they weren't enjoying sex prior to the weight loss, and after one year, only 11% said so.
men expressed feelings of unattractiveness and an unwillingness to be seen naked
, as well as difficulties with the sexual act itself, because the excess weight made it an ordeal. In a related study, Penn State University Associate Professor Patricia Barthalow Koch surveyed 307 mostly white, heterosexual women between the ages of 35-55 over a ten-year period in order to determine why
most womens' sexual desire decreases as they get older
. She concluded that, contrary to what conventional wisdom has held for years, a low libido had less to do with hormonal changes associated with the onset of menopause than with
poor body image
. (2) In other words, the more a woman saw herself as less attractive, the more likely she was to report a decline in sexual desire and/or sexual activity. Men don't appear to be immune to social pressure either. Their response, however, is reflected more in sales of Viagra than
. In 2004 alone, Americans spent $997 million on Viagra and a total of $1.4 billion to
treat male sexual dysfunction
. (3) It seems that men are expected to perform like Supermen in the bedroom, and if they fail, they have cause to feel bad about themselves, or, more accurately, their manhood. Of course, this totally overlooks any physical concerns surrounding high cholesterol, narrowing arteries, and heart attacks as well as the attendant hormonal and emotional issues of a low libido.
Perhaps a distinction needs to be made between erectile dysfunction and arousing men's passions, and addressing the former before the latter may be putting the cart before the horse. Director of the Sexual Medicine Program at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Dr. John Mulhall, sums it up beautifully.
"From an erection standpoint, anything that's good for your heart is good for your penis."
(4) I couldn't have said it better myself.
MORE BAD NEWS ABOUT FAT
Along with the increased production of SHBG which binds testosterone, fat cells secrete extra estrogen. This is particularly bad news for men's sex lives. Although estrogen is necessary in men, as it regulates a healthy libido, improves brain function and protects the heart, higher levels can produce fatigue, muscle tone loss, enlarged prostates and, most significantly to the topic at hand, decreased sexual function. Where fat is stored is also significant. "Visceral fat has the highest association with diabetes, high-blood pressure and high triglycerides," says Dr. Michael Jensen of the Mayo College of Medicine. (5) Intra-abdominal fat (belly fat) produces more inflammatory and clot-promoting compounds than the subcutaneous fat distributed around the body. But, ladies and gentlemen, you can't cheat Mother Nature by getting liposuction. According to Dr. Samuel Klein of Washington University in St. Louis, diet and exercise are the only effective ways to get rid of those pesky rolls of fat hanging over your belt loops. In his research, Dr. Klein found that even removing 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of subcutaneous fat via liposuction did not improve the overall health status in a group of obese women, i.e., their blood chemistry remained the same. He stated that had these subjects lost the same amount of fat through diet and exercise, they would have been able to shrink the size of the fat cells throughout their bodies, and therefore produced fewer of the dangerous chemical compounds in the blood. (6)
A WIN/WIN SITUATION
Here's an interesting twist. According to Kerry McCloskey, author of
"The Ultimate Sex Diet: The Secret Scientific Formula for a Slimmer, Healthier, More Passionate Life,"
(True Courage Press, October, 2004) you can lose weight by having lots of sex. What a concept! McCloskey states that
doing the wild thing can burn approximately 200 calories in a half an hour
. Then, after she decided to do her own research just to make sure that was true, she and her husband started having sex 8 times a week. And sure enough, she lost 23 pounds in six months. Sounds like a lot more fun than the treadmill.
So, here's the deal: the more weight you lose, the more sex you have, and the more sex you have, the more weight you lose.
Footnotes: (1) North American Association for the Study of Obesity, Vancouver, Canada, Oct. 15-19, 2005; Associated Press, October 17, 2005. (2) MSNBC.com, Nov. 10, 2005, Reuters; study published in the Journal of Sex Research (3) Forbes.com, "Better Sex Diet" by Vanessa Gisquet (4) Ibid. (5) MSNBC.com, "What You Don't Know About Fat" by Anne Underwood and Jerry Adler (6) Ibid.