June 24, 2010 (Las Vegas) -- Close to 70% of women who have weight loss surgery see improvements in their sex lives within six months, according to new research presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery.
"Women can experience improvements in sexual function postoperatively, and this does not depend on the amount of weight loss," says study researcher Dale Bond, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Miriam Hospital Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center/Brown University Medical School.
Exactly why the women's sex lives improved after weight loss surgery is not fully understood, but several factors, including improved body image and mood, as well as changes in their hormonal profile, may play a role, he says.
In the study, 54 women completed questionnaires assessing their sexual function before and after surgery. On average the women were 100 pounds or more overweight before their surgery. Sixty-two percent of women reported some level of sexual dysfunction before their surgery. After surgery, 68% of these women were no longer experiencing sexual problems.
Specifically, women reported improvements in their sexual desire, arousal, lubrication, ability to achieve orgasm, and sexual satisfaction levels and had either less or no pain during intercourse after their surgery.
The greater their sexual problems before surgery, the greater the improvement afterward, Bond says.
"We really don't think of sexual dysfunction as a comorbidity of obesity, but this suggests that improvements in sex life are an additional benefit that will matter to women who have the greatest sexual function impairment," Bond says. "Sexuality is an important and a distinct aspect of quality of life."
The new findings held regardless of whether women had gastric bypass surgery or Lap-Band surgery. Gastric bypass involves sealing off most of the stomach and creating a small stomach pouch and bypassing a length of the small intestine to reduce the amount of calories and nutrients that are absorbed from food. By contrast, Lap-Band surgery places a silicone belt around the upper part of the stomach, reducing its size to that of a golf ball.
Shanu N. Kothari, MD, a bariatric surgeon at Gundersen Lutheran in La Crosse, Wis., says the new findings shine a light on some of the quality-of-life issues affecting people who are overweight or obese.
"We focus on so many obesity-related comorbid conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and sleep apnea that we sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture, including quality-of-life issues," he tells WebMD.
Sexual dysfunction "is one of the hidden comorbid conditions that can improve with surgery," he says. The findings may also be applicable to men who undergo bariatric surgery, but those studies have not been done yet, he says.
John W. Baker, MD, president of the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery and the medical director of the Baptist Medical Center's Baptist Health Weight Loss Center in Little Rock, Ark., says that the new findings mirror what he has seen in practice.
And sexual function may be just the tip of the iceberg, he says. "We also see improvements in infertility and reductions in complications related to pregnancy in women who have bariatric surgery," he says. Men, too, reap similar benefits. "Males tend to have improved testosterone levels and related improvements in energy, drive, and function." Testosterone is the male sex hormone.