Misty Morgan and her husband were 2 years into a loving, supportive marriage. But between the sheets, things were grinding to a halt. Their sexual setback? Her weight.
“At nearly 400 pounds, not many positions were comfortable,” she says. “Sex was kind of a chore.”
Morgan had weight loss surgery and shed 212 pounds in 3 years. As the number on the scale has gone down, things in the bedroom have heated up.
“Now sex is more adventurous. I can do anything!” she says.
And the emotional connection she has with her husband is stronger because of her weight loss journey.
“He was really there for me through it all,” she says. “It brought us together in a way I never imagined. Having that bond strengthened our marriage.”
Morgan and her husband got their groove back. But not all couples get lucky that way.
Mind and Body, a Balancing Act
There can be roadblocks when making love in a too-big body. It can be hard to move around during sex, as Morgan found. Or, if you’re an obese man, you’re more likely to have erectile dysfunction. Feeling unsexy is common when you’re heavy, too.
Shedding extra pounds can be a good first step toward solving your sex problems. But it isn’t a cure-all for bedroom blahs.
“When we lose weight, it doesn’t really change our self-esteem, or how we deal with people,” says Coral Arvon, PhD, a behavioral and couples therapist. “It’s like shedding a skin -- it doesn’t change the person we are inside.”
And if you weren’t into sex before you gained weight, your sex drive will likely still be low after you lose it, Arvon says.
It’s also tempting to think that slimming down will boost your confidence in your body. But things might not look like you expect after the weight is gone.
“Someone who loses a lot of weight after surgery can be left with loose, hanging skin,” says Stephanie Sogg, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard. “This can really affect their body image quite negatively. Any time you don’t feel good about your body it affects your desire to have sex.”
Remember, there’s a lot more to feeling sexy than a number on a scale. Feeling good on the inside is a crucial part of the equation.
Does Your Partner Have Your Back?
Bethany Fuller lost almost 200 pounds after getting surgery to drop the extra weight, but she says her boyfriend was against the whole process from the start.
“He saw weight loss surgery as an ‘easy way out’ and didn't want me to go through with it,” Fuller says. “As soon as I came home from the hospital, he was distant and passive aggressive. I think he was angry that I went against his wishes.”
She began to look at the bigger picture. What she saw was the chance for a better, more confident her.
“As I lost the weight, my tolerance to put up with things that I used to deal with before went away,” she says. “I started to realize that he preferred me larger and with low self-esteem, because I was more easily controlled and manipulated. As that changed, the dynamic in our relationship changed.”
Fuller and her boyfriend drifted further and further apart.
“Intimacy in our relationship slowly disappeared and sex stopped all together,” she says. They parted ways 2 years after her surgery.
Fuller is now married and a mother of one. She says her weight loss and break up weren’t easy, but the end results were worth it.
“I lost 180 pounds and a 4-year toxic relationship,” she says. “Those things needed to change for my own well-being.”
Sex: The Tip of the Iceberg
“Relationships are like a system. When one part of the system changes, the whole system changes,” says Lynsey Kluever Romo, PhD, an assistant professor of communication at North Carolina State University. She researches how couples fare after one loses weight. The results, she says, have been a “mixed bag.”
“For the most part, losing weight benefits people's health and relationships,” she says. “But there can be a dark side if the other partner is not on board or is threatened by the weight loss, or if the partner who loses weight nags their spouse and holds them to unrealistic standards.”
So what’s the secret to relationships that survive and thrive after major weight loss?
The couples who get stronger, Romo says, are the ones who are on the same page. They tend to have greater intimacy, communicate more, and do more things together.
“The best thing a partner can do during this time is to just be on their side,” Arvon says. “Be a support system. Be open to listening.”