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Fewer Pounds May Lead to Better Sex, Researchers Say

MONDAY, Nov. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Women who shed pounds after weight-loss surgery gained a more satisfying sex life, researchers report.

Two years after their procedure, known as bariatric surgery, women reported improvements in their arousal, lubrication, sexual desire and overall sexual satisfaction, according to a study published online Nov. 4 in JAMA Surgery.

Blood tests also showed that the women had increased levels of sex hormones, leading researchers to theorize that massive weight loss could improve a woman's fertility.

The women's improved sex lives probably occurred because the weight loss improved how they felt physically and emotionally, said lead author David Sarwer, a professor in the psychiatry and surgery departments of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

"Sexuality truly is one of those phenomena where our behavior lies at the intersection of what's happening with us physiologically and what we are experiencing psychologically," Sarwer said.

About half of all women who seek bariatric surgery are experiencing signs of sexual dysfunction, the study authors noted in background information.

The study involved 106 women with an average body mass index (BMI) of 44.5 who underwent bariatric surgery. People with a BMI of 40 or greater are considered extremely obese.

Of the patients, 85 underwent gastric bypass surgery and 21 had a gastric banding procedure.

Following the surgery, the women lost an average of 32.7 percent of their original body weight in the first year, and 33.5 percent by the end of the second year.

By the end of the first year, women also began reporting improvements in sexual enjoyment and function. They also had improved self-esteem, felt less depressed and were more comfortable with their body image.

The improvements took place even though the women had not yet achieved their target maximum weight loss, the researchers noted.

"I think this is an important nuance that shows the interaction in sexuality between the physical and the psychosocial," Sarwer said. "Are improved hormone levels creating this rapid improvement, or is it that they are feeling better about themselves? Or is it a combination of the two?"

Women who reported the poorest quality of sexual function prior to surgery saw the most dramatic improvements one year after surgery, on par with women who reported the highest quality of sexual function prior to surgery, Sarwer said.

An expert not involved with the study said that the initial findings make sense.

"This is another good study that shows bariatric surgery helps patients in a number of ways," said Dr. Jaime Ponce, president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.

"By losing weight, it allows you to balance your good sexual hormones that control the menstrual cycle," Ponce said. "It allows them to experience improved sexual function."

However, Ponce pointed out that a wider follow-up study with a larger population of patients needs to be conducted.

Sarwer said a second study focusing on men is being prepared for publication next year.

It's very likely that men will also show improvements in their sexuality after bariatric surgery, he said, but physical complications may preclude them from enjoying the same increases as women.

"It's going to be a potentially cloudier picture," Sarwer said. "We know that obesity and its related diseases can have an effect on erectile dysfunction, and long-term obesity may cause damage to the erectile tissue. It may be one of these cases where the spirit is willing, but the body is unable."

The study authors noted that the findings were to be presented Nov. 14, at Obesity Week in Atlanta.

Sarwer reported that he has been a paid consultant to manufacturers of products for nonsurgical weight-loss treatment and bariatric surgery.

More information

For more on bariatric surgery, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

SOURCES: David Sarwer, professor of psychology, departments of psychiatry and surgery, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Jaime Ponce, M.D., president, American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery; Nov. 4, 2013, JAMA Surgery, online