Dropping extra weight is not the only potential benefit of bariatric surgery — those who undergo the procedure may also enjoy long-lasting improvements between the sheets.
Previous research has suggested bariatric surgery can lead to short-term improvements in sexual function, but authors of the new study, published in February 2016 in the journal JAMA Surgery, found that one-half of participants who underwent the operation saw better sexual function, including a boosted libido and more frequent sex, for at least five years afterward.
The study is also noteworthy because it shines more light on an overlooked aspect of obesity and subsequent weight loss: changes in sexual satisfaction and sexual function. With almost 40 percent of U.S. adults categorized as obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), interest in bariatric surgery has grown.
Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. Data from the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) suggests about 228,000 Americans underwent some type of bariatric surgery in 2015, up from 158,000 in 2011. There are several types of weight loss surgery, including gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, and adjustable gastric band procedures, according to ASMBS.
Surgeons often perform the operation to help people prevent or treat obesity-related diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, and sleep apnea, according to ASMBS. But sexual dysfunction is a feature that often does not receive as much attention, said Alison J. Huang, MD, study coauthor and internist and primary care doctor at the University of California in San Francisco, in a JAMA Surgery podcast. Dr. Huang was not available for direct comment.
“We’ve known for a long time that bariatric surgery improves many aspects of health in obese adults, at least in the short term,” Huang said. “But relatively little research on bariatric surgery has focused on quality-of-life outcomes that have interested patients even more than clinicians.”
How the Physical and Psychological Tolls of Obesity Can Hinder a Person’s Sex Life
Sexual dysfunction is often linked to obesity, says Samer Mattar, MD, immediate past president of ASMBS and medical director of Swedish Weight Loss and Bariatric Surgery in Seattle. Dr. Mattar wasn’t involved in the study.
“The reasons for this are multifactorial,” he says. “Obesity itself, the mere physical presence of the extra weight, can result in physical limitations. Second, there are psychological aspects to it. Unfortunately, a lot of our patients who suffer the ravages of morbid obesity become discouraged; they have self-esteem issues that stem from our society misinterpreting that obesity involves a lack of willpower or motivation. These patients become a little less social, less outgoing, and the opportunities to create relationships are hindered.”
Obesity-related diseases, such as diabetes, sleep apnea, cardiovascular disease, and depression, further interfere with physiological sexual function, Mattar says. “All these have side effects, such as decreased energy and decreased libido, or patients take medication for the diseases that may have the side effect of decreasing sexual function. Plus depression itself, which is present in more than 50 percent of our patients, has a major impact on libido.”
Bariatric surgery carries risks as wide-ranging as infections to gallstones, notes the Mayo Clinic. But most patients who undergo the procedure experience weight loss and corresponding improvements in various health markers, such as cholesterol and blood pressure, along with improved self-image and a better quality of life, according to numerous studies.