Obesity Surgery Boosts Sex Lives of Women

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 Monday 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.

“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.”