Losing a large amount of weight via bariatric surgery comes with a lot of victories, big and small. Many of them have nothing to do with the number on the scale or inside your clothing. Patients might be surprised to learn that one of the areas they may see improvement is in their love lives.
Last year, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that female bariatric patients reported post-surgery benefits that included improvements in body image and increased sexual satisfaction. “In general, when people come in for surgery their primary motivation is to improve their health. Not only do we see improvements in physical health, but we also see improvements in quality of life, body image, and self-reported sexual functioning as well ,” says David Sarwer, Ph.D., who authored the study. Dr. Sarwer is a professor of Psychology,Director of Clinical Services at the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders and member of the Bariatric Surgery Program who has studied the psychosocial aspects of bariatric surgery for years.
“We haven’t always had a good understanding of the difficulties with sexual function people with obesity have had,” he says. “It’s easy to imagine some people may be so self-conscious about their appearance and body that they may not be eager to participate in sexual behavior. Some may be limited physically as well.” It’s also possible that obesity may interfere with the hormones associated with sexual interest and arousal.
The good news is that the women in Sarwer’s study reported significant improvement in both the frequency of sexual activity they experienced, and their satisfaction with it after losing about 30 percent of their weight (approximately two years post-surgery). Many women experienced these improvements before they reached their maximum weight loss.
Sarwer, along with other colleagues at Penn is currently studying whether a similar effect can be seen in men, and the evidence looks promising. “Sexual function and sexual behavior are important part of most people’s lives,” he says. So while having a more active love life may not be the top reason you decide to pursue a surgical option for weight loss, it can be a very welcome side effect of the procedure.
For more information about the Penn Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery Program, sign up for a free weight-loss surgery information session.