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Sex and Weight

Want a better sex life? Lose 10 pounds.

Want a better sex life? Lose 10 pounds.

Many people who want to lose 10 pounds (or more) enjoy sex. But the few studies that have focused on sex and weight loss agree that losing weight improves sex. This might motivate some to start or stick to a weight-loss program, but few doctors and weight-control experts mention it.

One study followed 187 obese adults, average age 45, in a medically supervised weight loss program that included periodic quality-of-life surveys. After two years, they lost 13 percent of their weight. Before the study, 68 percent of the women said they felt unattractive. After, the figure was only 26 percent. Initially, 63 percent of the women said they cringed when a lover saw them undressed. After, just 34 percent felt that way. Findings for the men were similar.

At Duke's weight loss center, a 44-year-old man shed 47 pounds. "To my utter amazement and the delight of my girlfriend, I was suddenly imbued with the sexual energy of a 20-year-old lifeguard." Comments like his prompted Duke staff to survey the sexual effects of weight loss on 70 men, average age, 42. Moderate weight loss [eight to 30 pounds] significantly improved their libidos and sexual satisfaction.

Brown University researchers surveyed the sexual frequency and satisfaction of 32 obese women at the start of a weight-loss program. The women lost an average of 56 pounds. In a subsequent survey, more than half reported greater sexual frequency and satisfaction.

Part of the sex-weight loss connection involves self-esteem. Losing weight boosts it. People feel more attractive, and those feelings radiate to those around them, so they also look sexier to potential lovers.

But losing weight enhances sex for other reasons as well:

Less fatigue. It takes work to carry extra pounds. Compared with those who are trim, overweight people report more fatigue. Fatigue tends to build during the day. Most people make love at night. So being heavy robs you of energy just when you want it for sex.

Less pain. Carrying extra weight is hell on the hips, knees, and ankles. Many studies show that compared with people who maintain recommended weight, those who are overweight suffer significantly more arthritis. Pain is a major sexual turn-off. Weight loss reduces joint pain, which improves libido and enhances sexual enjoyment.

Lower cholesterol. Successful long-term weight-control programs limit consumption of fatty meats, which are high in cholesterol. University of South Carolina researchers checked the cholesterol levels of 3,250 men, and then surveyed their sex lives. The higher the men's cholesterol, the more likely they were to report erectile dysfunction (ED). Compared with men whose cholesterol was below 180 mg/dl, those with levels above 240 reported almost twice the likelihood of ED. In women, high cholesterol reduces clitoral responsiveness and vaginal lubrication.

Less diabetes. Diabetes, per se, does not condemn anyone to sex problems, but the disease increases risk of ED in men and impairs vaginal lubrication and clitoral sensitivity in women. Weight loss often reverses type-2 diabetes, which accounts for 90 percent of the disease.

Of course, losing weight isn't easy. You've probably heard that nine out of 10 dieters regain what they lose. But this means that 10 percent lose weight for good. How? They learn from their mistakes.

"Few people understand that permanent weight control is a learning process," says James Hill, Ph.D., of the University Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver. "People try a diet, lose a little, regain it, and feel they've ‘failed.' But they haven't failed. They're learning by trial and error. Over time, they figure out what works for them."

Dr. Hill co-founded the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), a database of people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year. Since 1993, the NWCR has collected more than 7,000 success stories. The average registrant has lost 60 pounds and kept if off for five years.

How? "They stop dieting," Hill explains. "Dieting involves major short-term changes that are virtually impossible to maintain long-term. Our mantra is ‘small changes for life.' Figure out what diet modifications you can live with, and stick with."

They also walk. "You can't keep weight off without regular exercise," Hill says. "Walking is registrants' #1 physical activity. They incorporate more walking into their lives. They take the stairs instead of the elevator."

The biggest surprise to emerge from the NWCR is that losing weight and maintaining the loss are two different challenges. "People lose weight in many ways," Hill explains, "but they almost always maintain lower weight on a low-fat, low-calorie diet with lots of walking."

Have you lost significant weight? What effect has it had on your sex life?

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