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June 15th, 2010
07:00 PM ET

Obesity may impede sexual health

By Elizabeth Landau
CNN.com Health Writer/Producer

Here's another peril of obesity to add to the well-known risks: It may harm sexual health.

A study published in the British Medical Journal looked at survey results from more than 5,500 women and 4,600 men in France regarding sexual behavior. Of them, 411 women and 350 men were obese, as defined by a body mass index (BMI) of over 30.

Unintended pregnancy or abortion were four times higher among obese women under 30 years old than among normal weight women in that age range. The authors reason that this may stem from a lack of effective contraception. Obese women were 70 percent less likely to use the pill, and eight times more likely to use less effective methods, such as withdrawal.

This may relate to another finding in the study: that obese women tend to infrequently seek contraception from health care professionals, compared with normal-weight women. The phenomenon may reflect the obese women's negative feelings about their bodies, worries that the pill will make them gain more weight, or their doctors' concerns about the cardiovascular risks of estrogen-progesterone contraceptives.

Obesity was associated with erectile dysfunction in men, but not with sexual dysfunction among women. Still, researchers found a trend toward decreasing sexual desire with increasing BMI.

Obese women between ages 18 and 29, they found, were three times as likely to have met a sexual partner through the internet than women with a normal BMI. The likelihood of having seen a pornographic film in the past 12 months increased twofold among obese women, but not men.

Researchers found that obese women were less likely than normal weight women to say they had a sexual partner in the past 12 months, and obese men were less likely than their normal weight counterparts to have had more than one sexual partner in that time period.

Partners of obese men and women were more likely to be obese also, with a stronger association for women than men.

Many of these gender differences have not been shown in previous studies, the authors said, and health care professionals should be aware of this effect. However, note that this study comes from a population in France, and country-based factors may have influenced the findings.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


soundoff (86 Responses)
  1. Fatty Boom Batty

    Unless you have HYPOthryoidism, you're fat because you're physically lazy. (Believe me, I know how the thryoid is linked to bodyweight. I recently corrected my HYPERthryoidism through meds, but I could not put weight ON when my thyroid was f-ed) Endurance athletes (ultramarathoners, triathletes, etc) eat 10,000+ calories a day when they compete, so it's not only about bad food or calories in, it's also about calories out.

    June 16, 2010 at 14:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. KC

    Quoting OhYeah "doctors give heavier people lower quality medical care, and not just obese people, but people who are only 20 pounds overweight (which is a lot of us)."
    I was within normal weight range according to the charts and a doctor called me "obese" because I wasn't a size 2 !!!! My bone structure is such that I will never be a size 2 ... at 108 pounds, I'm still a size 12 because of the size of my skeleton. He wanted to blame all my health problems on being "obese", even the ones that started when I was (according to the charts) 10 pounds underweight for my height, then had a fit when the inappropriate pills he gave me caused me to gain weight.

    June 16, 2010 at 15:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Jessica

    Nothing more than logic involved here – as a "somtimes" obese person, I can tell you that when im obese, its because I stop caring about my health and what im doing to myself, and that tends to cover all health bases. So, its less likely that someone obese would be taking as much care – such as using protection, and that would explain the results. Someone had mentioned "fat prejudice" from doctors. Its called "getting another doctor" if the one you have is not being available and helpful to you. Of course, you cant be angry with your doctor if their main point with you is LOSE WEIGHT – because they are trying to help you, the bottom line is, are you willing to help yourself.

    June 16, 2010 at 15:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Josharon

    I was brought up by a mother who despised fat people & we could not eat bread with dinner–1 meat & 2 vegetables. I have 2 sisters –we all ate the exact same food when growing up, yet at the age of 9, I started gaining weight, yet they did not. My father's side of the family were all heavy weight people and lived well into their eighties despite that. My father did not have the fat gene but I got it from his side of the family. Not every person who is fat over eats–their body is just good at saving calories consumed. I was a perfect size 10 in high school only because I starved myself and played softball, tennis & swimming on teams. After my first child was born when I was 18, I led a normal life, but the weight has always been a problem. I am 61 now, eat a healthy diet and exercise on a regular basis. I am over weight and don't lose sleep over it. I was dealt the weight card & have lived with it & will carry on with the zone diet that has helped me since 1997. Every one has a handicap whether it shows or not & people should just realize being mean to fat people does not help in any way-my mother always harrassed me about this verbally until she got alzheimers and forgot to do it. I, in kind, reminded her how mean and nasty she was. Yes, and just because this is on the internet does not mean that people can be as ugly as possible to others. People in our country of late have really forgotten their manners. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I, personally am enjoying not standing out in the crowd anymore because I have lots of other chubby company!!! How do you like those apples? I have never had a problem finding members of the opposite sex to have a normal relationship with all the bells and whistles.

    June 16, 2010 at 15:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Dwango

    But overweight people tend to be less condescending, snotty and judgmental – unlike some of the folks commenting on this story.

    June 16, 2010 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Pleasently_Plump

    Zenmaster and Dr. Know

    Obviously, the both of you have had picture perfect lives... no problems, no issues... it boils down to ... your both egotistical, egomaniacal jerks... seriously....

    June 16, 2010 at 17:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. gjc

    Once again another column that produces tons of nasty comments about obese people. Enough already! Keep your nasty comments to yourself. Believe me, one day something will happen to you that is not very nice and you will look for the compassion that you fail to provide now to overweight/obese people. Don't be surprised if that compassion is nowhere to be found. What goes around, comes around.

    June 16, 2010 at 17:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Jennifer

    I think the article is horribly written, greatly lacking in sound medical and/or professional analysis (not to mention lacking in additional well-known scientific facts), and in general terribly disparaging to anyone who is overweight, male or female. What's more telling/disturbing are many of the comments here.

    Shaming people, indeed shaming yourself, is hardly the answer to improved health. Many people abuse drugs or other substances that, whether intended or not, keep their weight down and make them look - to the outside world - "normal." But are they any better b/c they "appear" normal? Are they any healthier, mentally or physically? The answer is clear "No!"

    Is the person who deals w/ stress and reaches for the bottle, the pipe, their credit card, someone other than their spouse, exercises obsessively, etc., really okay as long as they look the part and maintain the proper BMI? Regrettably, it would seem the answer to that is a clear "Yes!"

    The truth is that few if any people recover and abstain from their drug of choice (food or otherwise) b/c of shame. Indeed, shame usually drives them deeper into addiction. Sad that we discriminate so harshly.

    June 16, 2010 at 17:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. WonderWorld

    Garyo, ** It's not that 13 year olds and fat people can't figure it out.. it's because the "beneficial result" of self discipline doesn't happen in a time frame that sufficiently reinforces the benefit of the action. I get the feeling you were much smarter at 13, right?

    June 16, 2010 at 17:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. KK

    It's all men making these terrible comments. You are truely the downfall of soceity...not big people. You make me so sad. What is causing such intense hatred? Did your parents raise you to be so angry and verbally abusive? Truely sad.

    June 16, 2010 at 17:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Sarah

    Ugh, can't believe the nasty comments. I am 35 lbs overweight, 5'7" tall close to obese but I also feel I don't apply to what they are saying in this study. I eat healthy, moderately exercise, and have sex 5+ times a week (with my significant other who is also overweight) and have always had a good sex life. I would say I probably eat too much and have a few too many snacks along with the healthy food, but it's always something I work on. As soon as I try to just "let go", I gain weight. I am lucky in that I have a nice shape and hold my weight well but I still know from a health standpoint I should lose some weight. I did have an unplanned pregnancy but I was using birth control at the time!! I have always gone to my annaul well care visits and take very good care of myself!

    June 16, 2010 at 18:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Amy

    To Michael Wong: I really can't believe that you are criticizing fat people for going to your gym. Isn't that what all you jerks are complaining about? That fat people don't exercise enough? How dare those fat people come to YOUR gym and do those "...lame, low-impact exercises...?"

    When is the last time YOU had a sexual encounter? I mean, with a real person, and your hand doesn't count. I bet you couldn't get ANY woman to even touch you, fat or not, for the mere fact that you're dick head. What a bitter, rotten person you are...way deep down on the inside...and there isn't any exercise that cures that.

    June 16, 2010 at 18:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. curious

    The unplanned pregnancy thing is interesting. Mainly because weight is a factor in many fertility problems.

    June 16, 2010 at 19:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. LenaA

    Am I the only one who read this headline and thought "Duh!" ? Of course obese people will have sexual problems! Being obese makes it very hard to even feel up to having sex, because you just DON'T feel sexy when you're fat.. My weight has fluctuated over the last year. I used to have a smoking figure, and then I got thyroid cancer. Itmademy thyroid inactive, and now that it's been removed, they're still trying to get my thyroglobin levels normal. I'm not "obese" right now, but compared to how I used to look, I FEEL like a fat ugly cow, and let me tell you, feeling sexually attractive when you know you're fat is just not possible.

    And now I can say, as someone who has NO thyroid, that having "thyroid problems" is absolutely NO excuse for obesity. Doctors have lots of ways to modify thyroid hormones, and they are not expensive by any means. Hypothyroidism, or in my case No-Thyroidism, is easily taken care of. So the next time you hear someone say they have problems with their weight because they have thyroid problems, gently request that they change doctors, because clearly their endocrinologist isn't doing their job very well. And, having no thyroid has only made me gain about 30 pounds, not 100, as many people claim their "thyroid problems" have done. ::shudder:: health problems are real. Their effects are real. But so is a basic unwillingness to proactively take care of one's self.

    June 16, 2010 at 19:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. HTDA

    Also....attention overweight women: you can be the sweetest, most caring person in the world, but men are hard-wired to find a woman's physical appearance attractive first, and THEN get to know her personality. A man is not going to see an overweight woman and think, "man, I bet she is so sweet and good-hearted. Let me buy her a drink". Sorry, but you will never win when compared to an attractive, thin woman.

    Yes, many thin and beautiful women are bitchy and intolerable, but guess what....so are many fat women!!! Just as people generalize about overweight women, stop generalizing that we (attractive, thin girls) are bitchy or anorexic. I'm fed up with hearing that same old line just as much as you're sick of hearing that obese people are _______ . And it's made me angry, so forgive the tone of this post.

    I work hard to keep myself in shape. I am fortunate enough to have genetics on my side, too, but I still work out to be healthy and strong. I am 100 lbs and 5'1", and I can (and do) eat like a horse. My measurements are 33-23-34, so YES, I have shape to my body, and I am not an "anorexic stick" which is what so many people try to say about skinny girls. I am also an intelligent person who does not go around acting like I have the world in the palm of my hand just because I am attractive and thin.

    June 16, 2010 at 20:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. CrazyKiss

    Thank you JoSharon for sharing (and no I am NOT being sarcastic).

    June 17, 2010 at 14:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. KK

    HTDA...instead of making us all feel terrible, you could have just skipped posting anything since this doesnt pertain to you. You've really made me feel terrible.

    June 17, 2010 at 16:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. mrdore

    duh

    June 17, 2010 at 18:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. el triguenyo

    after reading all the comments id say obese people like to argue against scientific studies

    June 18, 2010 at 16:51 | Report abuse | Reply
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  21. Audrey

    Wow! You people are some real prizes, you know that? Fat people have no self control, no self-discipline, no self-respect, and have mental conditions preventing them from linking cause and effect like ADD children?

    Damn! You idiots have proven something very important to me – we need to worry much less about the obesity epidemic and much more about the stupidity epidemic plaguing this country.

    August 23, 2010 at 13:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Jessica

    I guess you guys postive comments are usually right negative ignorant comments some of you guys have a point like when you say we can blame anyone but there also truth in it because if you buy organic food why would you if cost more??? What are the cheapest foods bread carbs packaged foods candy chips ext.... Most expensive protein meat fruits spices vegetables so it isn't enterially all us to blame look at the stores it's sad really go to other places go to Mexico you'll never see a person selling hamburgers in the street or with microwave next to their restaurant ppl cook actually cook and organic food organic vegetables fruits are grown all natural over there and there's no hormones in the meat which is also reason why now u see 10 yrs.old or 8yrs old with an ass or breast bigger than there mothers all the hormones they add to our food. But being overweight it obese it not a disease Aids a disease!!!! Not weight

    September 7, 2010 at 04:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Dizzy Buzz

    This article does not mention the socio-economic status of those in the survery. The poor tend to rely on government financial assistance. Government assistance is often tied to how many dependents are involved in each case. The poor have higher rates of obesity.

    November 8, 2010 at 11:13 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.