Sexual Impairment in Obese Adults

Obesity is assuming epidemic proportions in developed societies. It produces negative effects in the physical, mental and social domains. Obese people are known to suffer from sexual dysfunction. Past studies based on this theme used physiological indices or responses to a single item, while the current study tested responses on multiple factors and found that obese females experience greater sexual dysfunction than do obese males. It also found that more obese females were unmarried than obese males. However responses provided by an individual in a self-reported study might not be all that reliable. Further research may be needed to address this shortcoming.

Obesity is known to affect physical health and quality of life. A relationship between obesity and sexual dysfunction in males and females has been found in many studies. It is possible that obese females experience more sexual dysfunction than do obese males. This was noted in a study of obese females undergoing surgery to reduce the size of their stomachs. In one such study women were found to have lower self-esteem and greater impairment in their sexual life than men. However all these studies recruited either females or males. The present study compared the sexual function between obese males and obese females. It used a multidimensional questionnaire in people attending a weight loss program.


  • The study recruited participants enrolled in an investigation where a new weight loss drug was being tried. Sexual functioning before the beginning of the weight loss study was documented.
  • Only participants who were without a major health disorder, free from drugs and alcohol and not receiving brain-related therapy, were used as subjects.
  • They answered a Sexual Functioning Questionnaire (SFQ) consisting of 30 items grouped into nine subscales. These nine subscales documented interest, desire, arousal, orgasm, satisfaction, behavior, relationship, masturbation and problems associated with sexual activity. A higher score on a scale meant better sexual performance.
  • Body mass index (BMI), a measure of obesity, was calculated for all the participants. The link between obesity and response to SFQ were established by statistical analysis. The levels of sexual functioning were compared with the general norms among adults, including cancer patients and control populations.


  • The mean BMI was 36.85 for men and 38.33 for females. 81.3% of males and just 48.5% of females were married.  92.3% males  and 73.1% females  indicated sexual activity in the month preceding the study period
  • This trend indicated that obese men suffered less from sexual dysfunction than obese females. However, as a group, obese people of both sexes scored less than the general population on the SFQ. For the Sexual Functioning Questionnaire, the overall mean score for males was 3.47, higher than of 2.46, the value for females.
  • Women with higher education scored higher than their less-educated counterparts.
  • On the subscale of desire, the average value for obese men was 3.70 and 2.67 for obese females. The corresponding value in the general population for males was 4.67 and 3.91 for females. On the subscale of orgasm, the value for obese men was 4.01 and 2.78 for obese females. The corresponding value in the general population for males was 5.46 and 3.94 for females.

Next steps/shortcomings
This study is based on participants that were already enrolled in a weight loss study. So the findings obtained may not be the same in obese men and women who were not seeking weight loss treatment. Also, males reported greater sexual activity than did females. To what extent this information is true, cannot be determined in this study on the basis of self-reports obtained from participants.

This study found that obese women reported lower sexual functioning than men on nearly all subscales. Also, considerably fewer obese females (48.5%) were married compared to obese males (81.3%). This may indicate that heavier women are judged to be lower in attractiveness by their male partners. Obesity produces negative effects on physical health and psychological health. It also affects social functioning due to stigmatization, discrimination, and prejudice. Therefore, obese people, especially males, might not talk about their sexual problems with their physicians and friends. An atmosphere of acceptance and willingness to discuss these concerns needs to be created in order to treat such dysfunction.

For More Information:
Sexual Functioning in Obese Adults Enrolling in a Weight Loss Study
Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 2011
By Trules Østbye; Ronette L Kolotkin
From the Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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