For men, being overweight is linked to increased odds of sexual activity. But the opposite is true for women, according to new research published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine. The study examined the relationships between body weight, physical activity, and sexual behavior.
“So far, interest in sex and sexuality in health sciences has been predominantly focused on various pathologies and dysfunction as well as sexually transmitted infections. We are now starting to realize a number of salutogenic effects of sexual activities and there is research showing it to be important for mental and physical health,” said study author Igor Grabovac (@GrabovacIgor) of the Medical University of Vienna.
“Therefore, as a first step it is important to investigate different associations with sexual activities in epidemiological studies that will guide further research. Given that obesity is a major public health issues in the US as well globally, we wanted to see how these issues influence sexual activity in a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults.”
The study is based on data from 7,049 men and 7,005 women who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The survey assessed a number of factors such as sexual behavior, physical activity, and sitting time. It also measured the body mass index of the participants.
The researchers found that having a higher body mass index was associated with higher odds of frequent sexual activity in the past year among men who lived alone. In women, however, a higher body mass was associated with lower odds of frequent sexual activity, particularly among those living with their partner.
A high BMI can be an indicator of high body fatness, but it can also overestimate body fat in those with greater than average muscle mass, such as athletes and bodybuilders.
The researchers also found that women (but not men) who reported more sedentary behavior tended to report a lower number of sexual partners.
“We observed major differences between genders, where men who were overweight had more chances for sexual activity. Furthermore, we also observed that people with obesity who were living alone had lower chances of having a sexual partner over the last year. These results point to probable psychological and cultural issues surrounding obesity which are known but rarely seen in large epidemiological samples,” Grabovac said.
The researchers also found that increased levels of physical activity were associated with more frequent sexual activity among men and women who were married or living with their partner. Higher physical activity levels were also associated with more sexual partners for men.
The findings highlight “the overall importance of physical activity in our daily lives,” Grabovac told PsyPost.
“It is important to be physically active and not to spend too much time sitting, as these not only influence a myriad of health issues, but are also associated with sexual activity. This was confirmed in our results — both men and women who reported more physical activity were more sexually active.”
“For people at home, it is important not to underestimate the health effects of obesity on their sexual health, and to openly discuss their worries and issues with healthcare providers. For health care experts, it is important to actively engage with patients about sexuality and sex activities and realize this is a very important part of patients’ lives,” Grabovac added.
But the vast majority of the participants were heterosexual, meaning that the results might not generalize to the nonheterosexual population. “Our data did not allow for sub-analyses of sexual and gender minorities. However, it would be interesting to observe these issues in diverse groups and investigate the potential intersectionalities,” Grabovac said.
The study, “Associations Among Physical Activity, Sedentary Behavior, and Weight Status With Sexuality Outcomes: Analyses from National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey“, was authored by Igor Grabovac, Chao Cao, Sandra Haider, Sinisa Stefanac, Sarah E. Jackson, Viren Swami, Daragh T. McDermott, Lee Smith, and Lin Yang.