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Sexual Problems Common Among Obese People

Doctors need to show open attitude, help obese get treatment
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WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Medical News

Nov. 15, 2004 -- When a person is morbidly obese, their sex life often suffers. Desire for sex, performance, and enjoyment can nosedive. Many simply avoid sex altogether, new research shows.

In fact, morbidly obese people are 25 times more likely to report problems in their sex lives, compared with normal-weight people. "What struck us was this magnitude of difference… far greater than any of us expected," researcher Martin Binks, PhD, a psychologist and director of behavioral health at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center at Duke University Medical Center, tells WebMD.

Binks presented his report at the annual meeting of The North American Association for the Study of Obesity held in Las Vegas.

"It's a difficult topic for people to talk about, men and women alike," says Binks. "Yet the fact that the majority of the American population is overweight, we're going to see more people affected by this. This is not just a physical issue; it's a psychosocial issue involving body image and performance anxiety."

Morbid Obesity and Quality of Sex Life

His study involved 928 obese men and women -- with an average BMI (body mass index) over 40. BMI is an indicator of body fat. You can easily determine your BMI with WebMD's BMI calculator.

About half were seeking treatment for their obesity. All the obese people -- plus 282 normal-weight people -- completed questionnaires asking about four aspects of their sexuality: enjoyment of sexual activity, sexual desire, difficulty with sexual performance, and avoiding sexual encounters.

  • Almost two-thirds -- 65% -- of obese people in the treatment group reported significant sexual problems; 41% of the nontreatment group cited sexual problems; only 5% of normal-weight people did.
  • In the treatment group, 50% had difficulties desiring sex, 42% had performance problems, and 41% avoided sex. In the nontreatment group, 29% had desire difficulties or performance problems; 24% avoided sex. In the normal-weight group, 2% had function problems and 3% avoided sex.

  • Enjoyment was seriously impaired. Twenty-eight percent of the treatment group and 30% of the nontreatment group reported less enjoyment of sex, compared with 4% of the normal-weight group. That's 10 times less enjoyment among the obese people, Binks points out.
  • Women reported more sexual problems than men did. However, those getting treatment had fewer problems compared with obese people not seeking treatment.

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