How the Scale Sabotages Your Sex Life
The Connection Between Weight and Libido
As Michelle Haynesworth struggled to shed 40 pounds after her first daughter was born five years ago, she lost something else instead -- her libido. "I didn't enjoy sex anymore," says Michelle, 35, now a student in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. "I did it only because I knew it would hurt my husband's feelings if I didn't." She always insisted on the missionary position, to hide her "jiggly" body beneath his, and she felt self-conscious every time he touched her stomach, thighs, or butt. "All that would go through my mind was, Let's get this over with so I can get some clothes back on," she recalls.
Whenever newlywed Shawna Wolf's husband gives her a wanna-get-it-on glance, the 23-year-old music teacher in Strasburg, North Dakota, heads him off by suggesting they take their dogs for a walk. "I got in the best shape of my life for our wedding, but afterward I gained a few pounds, especially in my middle," she says. "My confidence is so zapped, I leave my shirt on during sex."
Bloating is enough to kill the mood for Lora Jacobson, 39, a health care meeting planner in Phoenix. "When my waistband is a little snug, I just don't feel sexy," she says. "I want to be in the dark under the covers."
If you've ever felt your desire flicker along with the fit of your skinny jeans, you can relate. Your readiness to romp often depends on how you're feeling about your naked body. "Many women lose their sexual confidence when they put on weight, but insecurity can also stem from something as subtle as feeling like you have poor muscle tone," says Susan Kellogg Spadt, PhD, director of sexual medicine at the Pelvic and Sexual Health Institute in Philadelphia. "In my practice, I see it daily in women of all weights."How the Scale Sabotages Your Sex Life
Studies show that having a body mass index (BMI) that's too high or too low messes with your mojo. When you gain or lose body fat, a slew of hormones affecting your libido are thrown out of whack. "It's a chain reaction," says Jennifer Berman, MD, a urologist and sexual-health expert in Los Angeles. Your levels of a natural chemical known as sex-hormone-binding globulin increase, which causes bioavailable testosterone, the hormone that stimulates sexual desire, to fall. In addition, high cholesterol associated with obesity can lead to plaque buildup in the blood vessels that supply the pelvic region, slowing blood flow to the clitoris and genitals and annihilating sexual arousal.
Yet even more potent than the physiological effect of your weight is how you feel about it. "If you're insecure and you focus on the way your body looks or what your partner is thinking about it during sex, you're not going to be in the mood," points out Cindy Meston, PhD, director of the Sexual Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of Texas in Austin.
Meston's research has shown that a woman's sex drive is strongly linked to body confidence -- specifically her perception of the areas of her body that can be easily seen by others (think stomach and thighs) -- rather than her BMI. In one study, women were asked to compare six of their body parts to those of models in 20 different photographs. Then the women watched an erotic film while hooked up to a monitor that measured their vaginal blood flow. "The women felt turned on, but physically they experienced a significant decrease in sexual response to the film," says lead author Yasisca Pujols Khouri, a doctoral student in Meston's lab. "Comparing yourself with a thin ideal can negatively affect your sexual response without your even realizing it."
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