With rates of obesity in the UK rising rapidly, the effects on people’s health is huge. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, in addition to affecting your mobility and mental health too.
However, being overweight can also impact upon your sex life. For many, sex is an important part of their lives and when sexual function is impaired, relationships can be affected.
Sexual issues that may occur, such as erectile dysfunction, fertility problems, low libido, decreased sexual satisfaction and side effects from medication to combat other diseases caused by being overweight such as high blood pressure, diabetes and anti depressants.
Diabetes and heart disease may be the underlying cause of erectile dysfunction and you should seek medical advice as soon as possible.
Men who are overweight are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction. Problems such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes associated with being overweight all prevent sufficient blood flow throughout the body, including to the penis. This affects a man’s ability to have or maintain an erection.
Poor dietary habits can cause heart attacks due to fatty deposits sticking to the lining of the arteries around the heart, restricting blood flow in the coronary arteries. This can also impede the blood flow to and within the penis, preventing it from becoming erect.
Studies have found that erectile dysfunction is relatively uncommon in men who eat a traditional Mediterranean diet, which includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, olives and wine, particularly red (K. Esposito et al, 2006).Research published in Andology (2015) found that eating a fatty diet can lead to lower quality sperm.
Folds of abdominal fat makes the penis look small or even buried in a fat pad which can affect your sex life. Many urologists often motivate their patients to lose weight by telling them that they will gain at least an inch in size by simply losing weight.
Quality of Sperm
Many men do not realise that being overweight impacts upon the quality of their sperm. The heavier the man, the higher the chances of a low sperm as demonstrated by research in the Journal Human Reproduction (2013).
The reason attributed to this is that great fat storage can turn testosterone into oestrogen, leading to a slowing down of sperm production or it diminishing completely.
Also the hormone leptin produced by fat cells which makes people feel full may damage sperm cells or those which produce them.
Another theory is that sperm don’t like being warm and the insulating fat tissue causes temperatures within the scrotum to rise. As sperm requires a slightly lower temperature than the rest of the body to work efficiently, it is recommended that men with fertility problems wear loose fitting pants such as boxers to keep the testicles away from the body and prevent them from overheating.
As a man makes sperm continuously, he can significantly improve the quality of his sperm by making dietary and other lifestyle changes .
Research in Denmark (2015) found that the information passed on through a man’s sperm during conception could leave his children predisposed to obesity if he is overweight. However, the good news is that if the man loses weight, this information can change.
Being overweight has been linked to lack of ovulation and fertility in women which is why many women are advised to lose weight when they find themselves struggling to conceive.Some women who are overweight or obese experience hormonal imbalances that can affect their menstrual cycles and prevent ovulation, making it harder to conceive.
Some overweight women have a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). In women with PCOS, the ovaries don’t produce enough of the hormones that stimulate the egg to mature and be released.
Interestingly male partners of obese women who are infertile may boost their chances of getting them pregnant if they lead a healthier lifestyle by improving their diet and losing weight, according to research by The University of Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada (2015). They found that men who conceived were significantly more likely to lose more weight and eat more breakfasts and more fruit and vegetables than men in couples who did not conceive. Their weight loss was not related to their partner’s weight loss.
Being overweight is linked to hormonal imbalance and lower testosterone levels, which can inhibit sexual desire in both men and women. Increased body fat leads to more sex hormones binding globulins in your body (SHBG), a natural chemical which binds to testosterone leaving less to handle the demands of a normal sex life, leading to low libido.
Men can boost their testosterone naturally through diet and losing weight.
The psychological affect of being overweight for both sexes may disrupt your sex life too, making you feel embarrassed, have low self esteem and depression, therefore not wanting to have sex.
Research has shown there is a significant association between obesity and lower levels of self-esteem as well as body image satisfaction in female teenagers. A study by Dibben (2015) at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada found that obese female adolescents were less likely to have ever had sex, both in the 15 to 17 year old age group as well as the 18 to 19 year old age group.
However, the overweight females aged 15 to 17 years, were more likely to be diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and the obese females aged 18 to 19 years were less likely to have used a condom the last time they had sex and less likely to have used birth control in the past 12 months.
Research for a recent Weight Watchers survey revealed that 75% of women dislike their bodies and 38% think their partner would find them unattractive if they saw them naked. Over a quarter of the women feel so ashamed, that they refuse to have sex with the lights on or avoid it entirely.
Often women can gain weight around their midrift during the menopause whcih can be hard to shift, leading to body confidence issues. You could try Yoga and Pilates in addition to walking more if you’ve gained a little weight around your middle (normal after menopause as weight is redistributed from the hips to the waist). A few extra pounds may make you feel sexier (they say you choose between your face and your figure…) as fat contains oestrogen so carrying a few extra pounds is no bad thing.
Doing resistance training with resistance bands or a kettlebell/hand weights can improve your bone strength and tone up your muscles too. Jane Dowling set up MenoandMe at www.menoandme.com offering advice about diet, exercise and healthy lifestyle to help during the menopause.
There is a general cultural assumption that guys don’t have body self-esteem issues, yet more men are experiencing body confidence issues with the rise of social media and the advent of the “selfie”. People with negative body image, both male and female, tend to overly engaged in upward social comparisons.
Being body confident is important to maintain healthy relationships so if you are overweight losing some weight can boost your self esteem and confidence in the bedroom. If your partner is overweight too, you could encourage each other to lose weight together.
Increased Sexual Satisfaction and Function
From feeling more body confident to having and wanting more sex, losing weight improves your sexual function too.
Research by the Endocrine Society (2011) found that men who underwent weight loss surgery increased their testosterone levels significantly 1 year post operatively.
Researchers at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (2013) found that women who underwent bariatric surgery to lose weight improved their sexual function dramatically too. Two years after surgery they found that the women experienced increased desire, arousal, lubrication and overall sexual satisfaction.
There were increased improvements in their hormonal levels and fertility and all the women reported improvements in their health and weight related quality of life, body image, levels of depressive symptoms and relationships satisfaction too.
In addition to switching to a healthier diet, taking regular exercise can boost your sex life too.