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Study: Obese People Have Less Sex, but Risky Sex

French Study Finds Obesity Has a Negative Impact on Sexual Health
By Katrina Woznicki
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

June 16, 2010 -- Obesity may negatively affect sexual health, and researchers say that given the prevalence of obesity, sexual problems may become more common.

Little is known about the relationship between obesity and sexual health. French researchers studied the sexual behaviors of 12,364 men and women aged 18 to 69 ranging from normal weight to obese who lived in France in 2006. Overall, obese people were less sexually active, but when they were sexually engaged, they were more likely to practice unsafe behaviors, the researchers reported in the online edition of BMJ.

Professor Nathalie Bajos, research director at the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Medicale in Paris, and colleagues found that among the women in the study group:

  • Unplanned pregnancies were four times higher among single obese women than normal-weight women, even though obese women were 30% less likely to have had a sexual partner in the past year.
  • Obese women were 70% less likely to use birth control pills and eight times more likely to use less effective methods, such as withdrawal. Obese women were also less likely to obtain advice about contraceptives.
  • Sexually transmitted infections contracted within the past five years were about the same between obese women and normal-weight women.
  • Obese women were five times more likely to have met a sexual partner on the Internet and to have an obese partner.
  • BMI was not associated with sexual dysfunction among women.

Among the men in the study group:

  • Obese men were nearly 70% less likely to have had more than one sexual partner in a year’s time, and were 2 and 1/2 times more likely to struggle with erectile dysfunction.
  • Obese men under age 30 were more likely to have contracted a sexually transmitted infection in the past five years.
  • Obese men aged 30 to 49 were less likely to have used condoms in the past year.

These findings are based on a study group of 3,651 women and 2,725 men who had a normal weight, meaning their body mass index -- a measurement of height vs. weight -- was between 18.5 and 25; another 1,010 women and 1,488 men were overweight (a BMI between 25 and 30); and 411 women and 350 men were clinically obese with a BMI of 30 or higher.

Bajos notes that women are often under greater social pressure to keep their weight down, and that low self-esteem and worries about body image may factor into these outcomes.Excess weight and clinical obesity is a major public health threat in the United States. More than two-thirds of all adults either have a BMI higher than 25 or above 30.

The association between obesity and erectile dysfunction had been reported in other studies before, but the association between obesity and unintended pregnancies is not as well known. Bajos and her team said their findings have significant public health implications.

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