Thursday, June 17, 2010

Obesity and fun sexy time

So...there's this: Obesity's impact on sexual health which is loosely based on this study: Sexuality and obesity, a gender perspective: results from French national random probability survey of sexual behaviours in the current BMJ. The basic ideas are:
  • high BMI impacts sexual health negatively for both men and women (the study only seems to refer to heterosexual people but I can't really tell)
  • both men and women with high BMIs are less likely to be sexually active than men and women with lower BMIs
  • heterosexual people of both genders are likely to have a partner with a BMI in the same range as theirs, but it's more likely that a man will hook up with a partner of lower BMI than that a woman will
  • men with high BMIs are more likely to report erectile dysfunction
  • women with high BMIs are less likely to use oral contraception, to seek medical treatment in the area of sexual health, or to require their partner to use a condom in hetero interactions, resulting in higher rates of unplanned pregnancies
  • some other stuff that I've forgotten since I read the articles this morning.
I always cringe when I see stories with these types of titles hit the news. First, the kind of reporting that occurs in MSM outlets is generally very slanted and selective and filled with innuendo and depressing assumptions and stereotypes. Second, the conclusions that are reached often extend far beyond what you can actually conclude from the study - especially when they reinforce some preexisting cultural attitude or belief. Third, they often seem to be so salacious and eager to condemn. So I generally avoid them altogether.

But I think there is something here we should pay attention to, and it's not the "obesity is a terrible pandemic sweeping the globe and obese people are bad and worthless and also totally backward sexually" message that articles like the one in Time are generally either straight-up saying or implying. It's also not the conclusion that is almost universally reached following these kinds of studies that the answer to all of this is for the obese people to put down the pizza and ice cream and lose some fucking weight already. No...the thing we should be paying attention to is the fact that many fat women are so beat down psychologically and have so thoroughly internalized the message that they are not sexual beings, that they don't deserve love and sexual fulfillment, and that their bodies are worthless and disgusting, that they often put their sexual health at risk. That is fucked. You know what else is fucked? The fact that many fat people have had such negative experiences with medical professionals that they would rather risk their sexual health than interact with them.

The fact that fat women are less likely to protect their sexual health is most definitely a matter of concern. It's most definitely a symptom of a larger problem. That problem isn't "the obesity epidemic." It's the shitty cultural attitudes and medical care that fat people encounter so often in their lives. This is a feminist issue y'all.


  1. Anonymous6/18/2010

    women with high BMIs are less likely to use oral contraception

    UM, isn't hormonal contraception's dosage based on a certain weight range? I don't know how true this is for the pill, but I'm on the patch, and if I weighed eleven pounds more than I do, I couldn't be.

  2. I absolutely *adore* how such articles pretend to ignore that taking oral contraception tends to increase weight and thus BMI. Also cholesterol, which I just found out recently after 10 years of being told that my cholesterol was too high and I was therefore at a high risk of heart disease and diabetes.

    So, being obese and bad experiences with medical care induces women not to see their doctor or use birth control reliably; but women who DO use birth control risk increased weight, cholesterol, etc, because non-chemical methods of birth control which are under a woman's control are frequently permanent and cost-prohibitive.

  3. Anonymous6/18/2010

    Oh god. I just can't bring myself to read any article in a mainstream outlet that has "obesity" in the title. Although maybe I could lose some weight from all the puking that would follow if I did read them all. Then I would be malnutritioned and have a damaged esophagus from all the puking, but yay I would have a medical-industrial-complex-approved BMI!

  4. Anonymous6/18/2010

    I've read a bunch of blog posts on this article. All of them, like this one, make terrific points in challenging the MSM's presentation of the study. However, I don't recall anyone mentioning poverty. Poverty correlates with lack of access to health care and obesity and is, IMHO, an important factor to take into account.

  5. Your point about fat people avoiding doctors is spot on. Now medical professionals are just gonna add another thing to their list to preach at fat people about, making us want to avoid them all the more.

  6. Anonymous6/18/2010

    I will say that the time article linked here made me feel less like poking my eyes out than most articles on obesity.

  7. Anonymous,

    Totally agreed on the poverty point.

  8. Anonymous6/18/2010

    Blah blah blah, another crock of shit article.

    I've found my fitness level impacts greatly on my sex life. But when I was fatter, and fitter, I had a great time! Fitness and fatness can be two very different things.

  9. Anonymous6/20/2010

    Given that naming something instantly makes it a bonafide thing that exists, has anyone countered the "obesity epidemic" thing with a catchy phrase that describes this new witch hunt?

  10. We definitely need a new phrase to call it what it is. I've just always resorted to scare quotes and, if it's a verbal interaction, a bit of eye-rolling or other body language.

  11. Anonymous6/23/2010

    This also reflects how fatness is more acceptable in men than women. I always noticed this in the rap and r&b music scene.

  12. strata6/23/2010

    "This is a feminist issue y'all."


  13. Anonymous6/24/2010

    Thank you for this.

  14. Anonymous6/30/2010

    I'm fat - not morbidly obese, just 5'8 and 240 lbs - and 44 years old. Reading this, I have tears in my eyes. The whole concept of "sexual health" is something I can't even relate have "sexual health" you have to have sexuality to begin with. I did...once upon a time...and then for some damned reason I got fat. And it's NOT FOOD! I have always had an unusual aversion to eating so my caloric intake has never been more than a few hundred a day...always from the right foods. The very thought of eating pizza, fried crap, or cake or cookies makes me literally nauseous, and did when I was skinny just as much as it does now.

    This week I downloaded a BBC documentary off eMule, called "Why are Thin people not fat?" This university experiment was done with a bunch of people who were thin all their lives. They were forced to overeat for 12 weeks with no exercise and at the end, measurements were taken, and the results confirmed that food and exercise alone DO NOT EXPLAIN the phenomenon of obesity. WHEN will people start seeing that this is NOT SOMETHING PEOPLE CAN ALWAYS CONTROL?

    I also discovered that my hunch about pollution is beginning to actually be taken seriously by researchers - just google the word 'obesogen' sometime if you're interested.

    I'm done. I am a sexually invisible person. What with males getting caught up in idiotic 'bro' shit - a world in which fat girls are literally seen as some kind of evil curse that ought to be exterminated - I sometimes wonder if lack of sexuality is going to be the worst of my problems. Right now, it's a worse enough problem just to have to look at myself in a mirror each day. I don't know how long I am going to hold out, I keep telling myself not to give up but is it possible for a person to have health at all without sexuality?

  15. Anonymous7/06/2010

    Had to pipe up to share a laugh (at myself). I read MSM to mean Men who have Sex with Men (but don't identify as gay) and since the topic included 'sexy' it took me a few re-reads to catch my mistake!
    Me thinks on second read you probably meant Mainstream Media?

  16. Obesity pretty much impacts on every part of a persons life.