Feb. 21, 2006 -- Cosmetic surgery -- including breast augmentation and body contouring -- is known to make people look younger and feel better about themselves. Now new research suggests that it may also improve sex life and the ability to achieve orgasm.
The greatest sexual benefits were seen in women who underwent breast augmentation, breast lift, or body contouring procedures, according to the study, which appears in the January/February issue of the Aesthetic Surgery Journal.
"For the longest time, tons of data were published about how plastic surgery enhances body image and restores self-confidence. And it was kind of known that if someone feels better about themselves, they become more sexual. But we never had the data to show it until now," researcher Guy Stofman, MD, tells WebMD. Stofman is chief of plastic surgery at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh and a clinical assistant professor of plastic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh.
Better Sex, More Powerful Orgasms
Of 70 women who completed a survey, more than 95% reported improvements in body image regardless of the type of cosmetic surgery they had undergone. After surgery, 81% of the 26 breast surgery respondents and 68% of the 25 body surgery patients said they experienced improvements in sexual satisfaction, compared to 32% percent of the 19 facial surgery patients.
And that goes for their partners too, the study showed. Seventy-three percent of breast surgery patients and 56% of body surgery patients said that their partner's sex life had also improved as a result of their surgery.
What's more, women who underwent body-contouring surgeries reported having an orgasm more easily following the procedure.
"It's quite possible that we may make changes in female anatomy that may lead to enhanced orgasm as well," he says.
More Confidence Boosts Intimacy
The new findings tend to mimic what Laurie A. Casas, MD, an associate professor of surgery at Northwestern University and the Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, sees in her practice.
"With people who undergo body-contouring surgery, they walk in covered up by clothing and six months later, they walk in proud," she says. "It doesn't change who they are, but it makes them more confident. And intimacy stems from a sense of well-being and feeling good about your body," says Casas, who is also a spokeswoman for the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
"Cosmetic surgery can change how you feel about yourself, but it won't change your self-esteem or who you are," she points out.
"I would never say, 'Have your breasts enlarged so you can have a better sex life.' But if someone said, 'Doctor, I feel so bad about my tummy after having three kids, I am embarrassed to have sex with my husband' -- then a body-contouring procedure may make them feel so much better. And it can give them the confidence to feel good about themselves in an intimate setting," she says.
"I hear it over and over again after body-contouring surgery," she says. "Patients say, 'I am so proud of my body. And my husband and I have so much more fun.'"
Therapy vs. Surgery
According to New York City psychoanalyst Gail Saltz, MD, author of the forthcoming Anatomy of a Secret Life, problems in the bedroom are likely due to more than dissatisfaction with breast size.
"Being able to achieve orgasm and have a satisfying sex life has a lot to do with sexual fantasy. And if your fantasy life is very hampered by feelings that you really dislike your body or breasts, then certainly creating an creating an image for yourself that's more akin to your sexual fantasy will help improve your sex life," she says.
"I would argue that what is getting in the way of fantasy life is probably more than the feeling that your breasts aren't the right size," she says. A better -- and safer -- bet may be to explore in therapy why this one thing matters so much to how well you like yourself sexually and physically.
"If you are feeling inhibited about the nature of your sexual fantasies, surgery isn't going to change that, and it's a lot to go through," she says.