Study Links Weight Loss By Obese Women To Improved Sex Lives

July 31, 1997

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- A new study suggests that obese women may improve their sex lives by shedding excess weight.

More than half of the 32 women in the study said their sex lives got better after they lost weight. The women thought more about sex, had sex more often, or both. The most common reason they cited for the changes was improved body image.

"The study indicates that weight loss may be beneficial to domains besides physical health such as quality of well being," said Teresa King, one of the authors and a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University. "Most of the study's findings could be explained by body image issues. This suggests that sexual functioning can be improved by improving the way women feel about their bodies, which means that women don't necessarily have to lose weight to have better sex lives."

The study appears in the spring 1997 issue of the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy. Its lead author is Kelly Werlinger, who led the research while an undergraduate at Brown.

"If a woman concentrates more on a sexual experience and less on perceived limitations and drawbacks of her body, this will lead to a heightened experience," said Werlinger. "But sex is often very body focused. Some women can't escape the negative feelings they have about their bodies when experiencing sexual activity."

Although women in the study reported positive changes in sexual functioning and body image after weight loss, their level of sexual activity and perception of body image were still well below national averages. And, while the satisfaction the women derived from their sexual thoughts or activities had increased after weight loss, the improvement was not statistically significant, King said.

The average age of women in the study was 47. Half of the participants were married, and 91 percent were white. The women participated in a medically supervised weight-loss program for at least 12 weeks, shedding between 10 and 100 pounds. The average weight loss was 57 pounds.

The study is considered a pilot project because the women were assessed about their pre- and post-treatment feelings after their weight loss. As a follow up, King and colleagues are currently surveying women both before and after weight-loss treatment.

More research is needed to exam body image and sexual functioning in obese women, King said. Most studies of women and body image focus on patients treated for bulimia and anorexia nervosa, not obesity, she said.

Brown University

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