Bloomberg News

Obesity Surgery Bolsters Women’s Sex Lives as Hormones Stabilize

November 04, 2013

Women who undergo weight loss surgery have healthier hormone levels and report marked improvement in sexual function as they shed unwanted pounds, researchers said.

The first study to track sexual satisfaction following bariatric surgery found the area often ignored by doctors can cause unanticipated changes for couples, said David Sarwer, the lead researcher and a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. Improvements in sexual health, and perhaps fertility, may be an added benefit of weight-loss surgery for women, the researchers said.

The women experienced significant gains in every quality-of-life measure, with the changes emerging soon after surgery and before they reached their maximum weight loss, according to the report released today in JAMA Surgery. After two years, the women reported improvements in arousal, lubrication, sexual desire and satisfaction. They also lost about one-third of their initial body weight. The greatest changes were seen among women whose obesity had most affected their sexuality, Sarwer said.

“When we think about extreme obesity and sexual behavior, it’s one of these ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ issues,” he said in a telephone interview. “What this study really shows us is that women experience clinically significant changes within the first year, and sexual behavior is clearly one of these areas.”

Sexual behavior is driven by hormones as well as the thoughts and feelings of both people, he said. There was a wide range of interest in sex among the 106 women who participated in the research, all of whom were in romantic relationships at the start of the study. In general the women reported an increase in the quality of the romantic relationship after the surgery.

Quality of Life

“This is an area we don’t spend a lot of time talking about with our patients,” Sarwer said. “It’s something that is on their minds. For many people, sex is an important part of quality of life. We need to talk about their questions related to sexual behavior.”

More than 500 million people worldwide are obese, according to the World Health Organization. In the U.S., about one-third of adults -- or 78 million people -- are affected by the condition, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bariatric surgery is the most effective method of weight loss, with studies showing procedures to reduce the size of the stomach lower cholesterol and diabetes risk. In the study, 85 women had a gastric bypass, when part of the stomach is closed off and the small remaining pouch is connected to the small intestine. The other 21 had gastric banding, a reversible procedure that shrinks the stomach with an adjustable band.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michelle Fay Cortez in Minneapolis at mcortez@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net


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