LONDON — Scientists say being fat can be bad for the bedroom, especially if you're a woman.
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In a new study, European researchers found obese women had more trouble finding a sexual partner than their normal-weight counterparts, though the same wasn't true for obese men, and were four times as likely to have an unplanned pregnancy. Fat men also reported a higher rate of erectile dysfunction.
Experts interviewed nearly 10,000 French men and women aged 18 to 69 about their sexual experiences and analyzed the results based on their Body Mass Index.
Obese women were 30 percent less likely than normal-weight women to have had a sexual partner in the last year. In comparison, there was little difference among obese men and normal-weight men as to whether they found a sexual partner.
The results were published online Wednesday in the medical journal BMJ. The study was paid for by several French government agencies.
People with a BMI of 18-24 are considered to have a healthy weight. Those with a BMI of 25 or above are considered overweight and people with a BMI of 30 or more are classified as obese.
Previous studies have found similar trends, but researchers were surprised by the discrepancy they found between the genders as to how excess weight affects peoples' sex lives.
"Maybe women are more tolerant of tubby husbands than men are of tubby wives," said Kaye Wellings, a professor of sexual and reproductive health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and one of the BMJ study authors.
Experts said the problems faced by obese people were probably due to a combination of physical problems linked to obesity as well as other issues, like low self-esteem and social prejudices.
Obese people are at higher risk anyway for diabetes, depression and urinary stress incontinence, all of which can hinder sex. If people are extremely heavy, they might also have muscular or skeletal problems that make sex challenging.
The researchers found that obese women were less likely to ask for birth control services, and thus, four times more likely to accidentally get pregnant. Pregnant fat women and their babies also faced a higher risk of complications and death than normal-weight women.
Dr. Sandy Goldbeck-Wood, a specialist in psychosexual medicine at a London sexual health clinic, said physicians must talk to obese women about birth control.
"Doctors need to get over their own embarrassment and ask the difficult questions," she said. Goldbeck-Wood was not linked to the study but wrote an accompanying editorial in the BMJ.
Wellings and colleagues found obese men and women with a partner were no different from normal-weight people in terms of how often they had sex.
They also found that women tended to have partners with a similar body shape. Nearly 70 percent of fat women reported having a partner who was also heavy, while only about 40 percent of fat men had a similarly proportioned partner.
Some experts said the growing obesity epidemic in the West would worsen sexual dysfunction problems.
"This is not a heart attack or a stroke...but it's an important quality of life factor and a public health problem," said Dr. Andrew McCullough, an associate professor of clinical urology at New York University of Medicine and director of male sexual health at NYU's Langone Medical Center.
He said the study's findings should provide another reason for people to trim their waistlines.
"It seems like a no-brainer," he said. "If you lose weight, you will feel more attractive and that could improve your sex life."
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