09/09/2011 08:09 am ET Updated Nov 09, 2011

Can Excess Weight Wreck Your Sexual Health?

Have you noticed your waist getting bigger as you're getting older? It's interesting that we often call this excess weight "love handles", but are those extra rolls of fat around our mid-section really helping to boost your sex life? Turns out, probably not. While this may be disappointing news for those searching for another excuse to avoid the gym, recent studies have indicated what doctors and scientists have long predicted to be true -- obesity, inactivity, excessive drinking and smoking all contribute to a decrease in sexual activity and an increase in sexual dysfunction. Yikes!

I know what you're thinking -- it's all about attractiveness and bias against overweight people. Not true! What research is telling us is that the decrease in sex that accompanies obesity is not an attractiveness thing -- rather, there's an actual physical connection between being overweight and decreased performance in the bedroom. Take high cholesterol, for example -- a condition that often accompanies obesity. With high cholesterol, the same bits of fat and lipids that clog your blood vessels and put you at risk for heart attacks can clog the small vessels that supply blood to the penis and clitoris. Why does that matter? Well, limited blood flow to the penis means erectile dysfunction or impotence, while limiting blood supply to the clitoris may contribute to decreased sensation and fulfillment in sexual activity. When one starts to experience these problems, it often then leads to decreased desire, and the vicious cycle of decreased desire/decreased sex starts.

To make matters worse, the more excess fat you have, the more Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) you have floating around in your body. That's medical-jargon for a chemical that binds to libido-boosting testosterone. This simply means that for men, the more fat you have, the less testosterone is available to get you in the mood and in peak condition for a sexual encounter.

Before you race out to the gym, I also have to point out that, interestingly, your super-skinny friends may not be off-the-hook, either. Underweight men have more than twenty times greater risk of experiencing erectile dysfunction, inability to orgasm or premature ejaculation. So maybe that is some justice!

What's someone looking for love to do? Stay as fit and healthy as possible. Often, losing just 10-15 pounds could be the difference between increased risk for diabetes, stroke and heart disease and a new lease on a stellar sex life. Exercise may have added benefits, too. Walking, running, yoga or swimming -- basically activities that involve your thighs and buttocks -- increase circulation to your pelvic region and ensure that you will have plenty of blood flow for arousal and optimal sexual performance.

So if having to loosen your belt a notch wasn't enough motivation to get you to the gym, maybe the thought of increased sexual performance will do just the trick!

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