Sexual Wellness Resource Center
For Adults over 50.

Overweight and No Action in the Bedroom?

Senior Man Exercising
By Michael Bates, M.D.

First of all, how much of a problem is being overweight in America? Recent studies show that 2/3 of Americans are overweight, and 1/2 of those who are overweight are actually obese. BMI, body mass index, is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women. It is not a perfect measure of healthy weight, but it provides a benchmark.   For example, a very muscular person with low body fat could find herself/himself in the overweight range of BMI. Google BMI and you will find the formula to calculate your own BMI. Generally, a BMI of 25-29.9 is defined as overweight and a result of 30 or greater is defined as obese.

 The health problems associated with being overweight are well known:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes 

Being overweight can also cause sexual problems. The journal Obesity says “Obesity is associated with lack of enjoyment of sexual activity, lack of sexual desire, difficulties with sexual performance, and avoidance of sexual encounters.”

For men, the problem is erectile dysfunction (ED) and low testosterone. For women it is the lack of a sexual partner, infrequent sexual activity and self-consciousness about body image.

Although the concept is simple, to lose weight you need to eat fewer calories than you burn (eating less and exercising more), weight loss is not an easy thing to do. In my practice I found that more patients had success with Weight Watchers than with other programs. Whether it is Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem or a medically supervised weight loss program, nothing works until you make the commitment. Weight loss is only half the battle, the other half is to maintain the weight loss after it is achieved. After reaching your weight goal, you cannot stop exercising and resume old eating habits. Successful weight maintenance is a lifestyle change in exercise and intake.

Recent research has shown that weight control also has a lot to do with hormones. Women are already aware of this because of the changes associated with the menopause. Metabolism slows and it is very easy to gain five or ten pounds, most of which goes directly to fat deposits around the belly.

Besides estrogen and progesterone, there are other hormones at play in both men and women that effect weight control. Ghrelin is a hormone produced from the lining cells of the stomach that works with your brain to signal that you are hungry. Reducing calories causes an increase in ghrelin and more hunger signals being sent to the brain. Great, just what a dieter doesn’t need! Don’t despair, exercise decreases ghrelin levels. Begin with thirty minutes of vigorous walking four times weekly, work up to two miles in that time frame. Exercise is critical to weight loss and weight maintenance.

Leptin is another weight hormone, this one released from fat cells. It tells your brain to eat less and to burn more calories. The more body fat you have, the more leptin you release and the eat less message becomes stronger, a good thing. However, with too much body fat and too much leptin being released, your brain becomes resistant to the signal, a bad thing. To get the proper eat less signal back, include antioxidant-rich berries and green and red vegetables in your daily intake. Think of it as putting as much color as you can in your diet. With the loss of as little as 10 pounds, your brain begins to become responsive again to the eat less signal. The more weight you lose, the more receptive is your brain to the leptin induced eat less signal.

When you start taking better care of yourself you develop a better self-image, and that increases your interest in sex, even if you haven’t yet lost any weight. As you do lose weight your general health improves, your sense of well-being improves, and your sexual life is likely to follow along.

One thing that is not disputed is that being sexually active and fulfilled is necessary for a happy, healthy life. If better health is not a good enough reason to lose weight, perhaps a healthy sex life is. Start by eating a more colorful diet, get active physically, lose 10 pounds. Be patient and persistent, small successes over time add up to generate big rewards, not only in the bedroom but also for health in general.



 Anderson, William, MA, Counselor Education, How weight loss can improve sex-how sex can interfere,

 Bouchez, Colette, Better sex: what’s weight got to do with it?

 Boyce, Stephen, MD, Men: is obesity affecting your life?

 Radcliffe, Shawn, Boost your sexual mojo by losing weight,

 Rousell, Mike, PhD nutrition, How to optimize your body’s secret weight-loss weapons,