Being Overweight Increases Risk of STDs and Unplanned Pregnancies?

Being Overweight Increases Risk of STDs and Unplanned Pregnancies?

Many thanks to Chi Chi for this link.

I… um… I’m just going to post the article, and then share a few of my thoughts:

Being obese can really get in the way of your sex life—and not necessarily in the ways you might think. According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, people who are obese are less likely to have been sexually active in the past year, but surprisingly, they’re more likely than people with an average body weight to have sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies. I’m no rocket scientist, but something tells me those are the results of not practicing safe sex.

Researchers in France surveyed 12,364 men and women between the ages of 18 and 69. Half of the participants were in the normal weight range, while the rest were overweight or obese. The survey showed that obese women were 30 percent less likely to have had sex at all in the past year, while obese men were 70 percent less likely to have had more than one sexual partner.

Despite spending less time frolicking between the sheets, single obese women reported unplanned pregnancies four times more often than thinner, unmarried women. That’s because obese women are less inclined to seek birth control advice or use oral contraceptives, say the study’s authors. Research presented at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists 58th Annual Clinical Meeting last month backs up these findings. Data from the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows that obese and overweight adolescent girls are less likely to use condoms or other birth control methods.

Chalk it up to low self-esteem. Past research has shown that obesity is related to poor body image, which is associated with high-risk sexual behavior, like unsafe sex. And it’s not just women. The French survey also showed that obese men were much more apt to have had an STD, despite fewer sexual partners.

Though weight did not appear to affect women’s ability to climax, erectile dysfunction was two and a half times as common in obese men as in men with healthy BMIs. Because the penis requires healthy blood flow to become erect, ED can often be a sign of undiagnosed heart disease or circulation issues—all the more reason why someone with ED symptoms should put their embarrassment aside and talk to their doctor.

No matter how much you weigh, or how you feel about your body, these studies underscore how important it is to always put your health first. We all hate exposing our flabby imperfections to strangers—whether it’s the gynecologist or our latest crush. Still, regular doctor’s visits, and a satisfying sex life, can help keep us healthy and happy. If losing weight helps get you there, even better. But even if you can’t get the scale to budge, never let those extra pounds diminish your value. That’s not the way to hotter sex. Loving yourself is.

Now… before we come jumping head first into the comments to play the role of “PR Person for The Overweight Delegation,” let’s be realistic, here.

You’re talking to Erika, here. I have NO desire to beat any woman with poor body image over the head with “what’s wrong with her.” I also have no desire to ignore a very real and realistic problem just for the sake of protecting the image of “The Strong Overweight Woman” or “The Strong Black Woman.” Not gonna do it.

The reality is… in a society that openly and outwardly devalues women who don’t look the way society wants them to look… it is wholly realistic to expect those women to have less-than-healthy body images.

It is also realistic to expect that those women would feel less than worthy of attention from those whom they desire.

It, furthermore, feels realistic – at least, to me – that a woman who’s self-esteem has already been beaten down by society for not looking the way they want her to look, who also doesn’t feel like she’s worthy of the attention of those she finds desirable, would also be more willing to “do extra things” to get and/or keep the attention she has.

Which means.. if she thinks her current significant other might leave her or be less compelled to give her attention if she turns down condomless sex… and she already feels like it’s unlikely that she’d ever get the attention of another… is it so unlikely that she’d just “suck it up and do it anyway?”

Before I unleash this topic… let me declare a few obvious things.

All women have body image and self-esteem issues.

All women feel some sense of desperation for a man’s attention at one point in time or another.

All women, unfortunately, have felt that pain of having to make the hard decision that’s in their best interest and suffered the consequence (regardless of whether or not that’s for the better.)

However… I also know that this site reaches out to a lot of women who are currently uncomfortable with their bodies, and while I know that there are women of all body sizes who frequent this site? I also know that a lot of the women who frequent this site are larger than the size society says a woman should be. So yes… I’m taking the “weight bait” on this one. Commenters may not.. but its obvious to me that this is going to be a more prevalent issue with overweight women because society beats us over the head so often.

That being said… what, on Earth, do we do about this? For all women, but especially those who our country insists upon demeaning?

By | 2017-06-10T11:22:12+00:00 November 14th, 2014|Health News|29 Comments

About the Author:

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes food and fitness, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is also certified in sports nutrition by Precision Nutrition. She now lives in New York with her husband and children, and is working on her 6th and 7th certifications because she likes having alphabet soup at the end of her name.

29 Comments

  1. Dre January 13, 2011 at 4:33 PM - Reply

    I usually don’t comment often, but this article struck a cord with me…As a STD/HIV educator I find htis article to be very misleading and lacking detail. Dealing with the issues of STDs on a daily basis, I can not say that I have seen trends that are mentioned in this article, one reason may be that I work on an HBCU campus in south. The article speaks of subjects who were over weight or obese, was this by BMI standards or self identified? I ask this because down south, a person over weight may not self identify as being “fat”, they may consider themselves “thick” etc. which may not cause for self esteem issues etc. because this is deemed as acceptable. With that being said, I am not convinced that a persons weight contributes to their risky sexual behavior. I have come in contact with just as many skinny women in my profession who seem to have issues practicing safe sex….to say this is a weight issue is ridiculous. If a woman lacks the morals and judgement to use protection then that’s one thing, but to say that it is because “I’m fat and he may not want me if I don’t” is simply a cop out. Where is the accountability??

    Also, as for the unplanned pregnancies, the article failed to mentioned that the majority of birth control methods have a weight limit on them. Many women are unaware and think they are protected from unwated pregnancies and they are not because of their weight.

    Lastly, STDs/HIV do not have a weight limit, if you are engaging in risky activitiy while over weight, losing weight will not solve the problem, you have to know your own self worth pre and post weight loss!

    • Shae January 13, 2011 at 5:41 PM - Reply

      I agree with your point on this article… I also just learned something from your statement, I did not know that the majority of Birth Control methods has a weight limit on them… I guess I will have to research more on this myself, I guess I assumed BC pills and other methods being effective if used properly, I never figured weight in the picture….wow this is interesting….

    • Jaci January 14, 2011 at 11:16 AM - Reply

      Speaking from my own past and my risky behavior. I totally agree with Erika on this one. At 20, I was overweight, unhealthy, and my self esteem was in the tank. I craved male attention. And when I got it, I didn’t care if we were safe or not. In fact, I don’t remember ever really thinking about condoms or birth control. I was more concentrated on the fact that someone wanted to “have” me.

      • Erika January 14, 2011 at 11:49 AM - Reply

        *big hug*

        I know it took a lot to share that.

        I was always tied up in long-term relationships when I was at my heavier weights, but I can’t honestly say that this wouldn’t have been me if things hadn’t come around differently. In fact, the thought frightens me… and I think that’s why this is such a big deal to me. I’m also kind of sad – I won’t lie – that the conversation is being dismissed (see here: http://www.facebook.com/BlackGirlsGuideToWeightLoss/posts/122353801168264 ) because, again, people would rather play PR person for overweight women than actually addressing the issue so that a woman who’s reading my site and going through this issue can feel like maybe there IS a solution that she just can’t see. I just.. I don’t know.

        I do know that your story resonates with me in a way that makes me nervous for what my past could’ve looked like had I made a small number of decisions differently. Seriously. Sigh.

      • Nae June 26, 2014 at 7:05 AM - Reply

        Yep, sounds like me too. During my younger years,( high school through early college)

        My self esteem was soo low I allowed one person to become my everything and then some. We had condomless sex 90% of the time, making sure his sperm wasn’t in contact with me at all. I wasn’t even thinking he would mess around because he “loved” me.

        Never got pregnant, not once. But I did wind up contracting two Human Papillomavirus strands from him. That was the wake up call.

        Now granted my weight wasn’t high then, I actually lost alot while I was with this person but my body image and self esteem were not stable at all.

        If God blesses me with daughters, I need to have a game plan to attack the issue of body image, sex, love and self esteem. They all matter!!!

        Great article btw!

  2. Jeannine January 14, 2011 at 2:02 PM - Reply

    Sigh…at that article. I do think they are unfairly placing too much of the blame on being overweight. I think everyone’s situation is different but I think I was riskier when I was smaller. While I agree the risk factor is related to our self-worth, it doesn’t mean that just because you are overweight your self-worth is in the tank. I may not like the way I look in a mini skirt or a tank top but that doesn’t mean I think I’m totally worthless and can just give myself to a man to use & abuse me, leave me with an STD or a child he didn’t want. I am a single mother who had a child out of wedlock with a jerk who didn’t want her (he has since come around). However, I was very sexy, and hyper sexual because I was so sexy :-), when that happened and just made a bad decision not related to my self-worth but more related to my indifference about other aspects of my life that had nothing to do with how I looked and alchohol did not help either! What I mean is I didn’t engage in risky behavior often but I had a moment where I threw my caution and sense of responsibility out of the window! I can imagine how this could definitely happen to overweight women, but come on! We are not all monsters who don’t love ourselves, and eat all of our feelings, and attach onto whoever can stand to look at us. That’s just crap! I’m also not an overweight woman who thinks that it’s okay. Big is beautiful and all that mumbo jumbo. I’m just a woman who doesn’t think my self-worth is totally linked to how I look. That’s a very superficial part of who I am it’s not everything. Fat or not, I need to know how to love myself when I’m old and all 6 of my tatoos are sagging to the floor! LOL

    I was totally aware of the birth-control issue and that is does have weight limits. So when you are overweight they actually work less or hardly at all. The percentage deifinitely drops from being 99% effective when you are packing some pounds. Top that off with that fact that birth control affects your hormones which can make it more difficult for some women to lose weight. Birth control or not, many of us have no excuse for not using condoms. That’s coming from someone who is allergic to latex, I still used them! I had my baby at the ripe old age of 28, LOL! And she is the only one! She was not born out of a series of risky behavior but just the one time. It happens…but I agree women need to work on their self-esteem and self-worth no matter what they weigh.

  3. malpha January 14, 2011 at 2:14 PM - Reply

    Well I wasn’t going to say anything because I’m not “morbidly” obese and I am queer/23yearold virgin, so this article is meaningless to me. But I live in a rural town where no one seems to know about birth control, because the young black women I know are routinely getting pregnant regardless of weight (and sadly, age) or just caught up in terrible, abusive relationships with men who cheat on them. And the issue seems to be lack of self-worth or aspirations for the future….things that aren’t going to change with your weight. This seems kind of like the Skinny Infographic we had. This lack of self-esteem and exercising proper sexual health business is not going to be cured by losing weight. After years of giving men what they want due to insercurities about your weight, are you really going to stop because you’re skinny now? Do you just magically learn to say no because you dropped 70lbs? Especially if everyone is giving you shade about the unsafe behavior you practiced when you used to be huge? That’s what sexual health and women’s initiatives are for and it needs to be taught regardless of weight. I feel like it’s all a part of a larger conversation and problem, so pointing out an aspect like weight out of context does not do anyone any help.

  4. Natasha January 15, 2011 at 2:39 AM - Reply

    “That’s because obese women are less inclined to seek birth
    control advice or use oral contraceptives, say the study’s authors”
    Wow, I think the article missed a major point – overweight and
    obese women have fewer birth control options. For example, doctors
    don’t recommend overweight women use the Patch or the Ring. I don’t
    know about you, but when I’m not ‘frolicking between the sheets’
    often, I tend to be lax about taking the Pill. Who needs the daily
    reminder of what’s NOT going on? So, instead of making overweight
    and obese women feel bad, these scientists should find more
    (better) birth control options.

    • Rad October 18, 2014 at 8:06 PM - Reply

      I agree. I’m overweight (always have been) but I never had a problem getting the D if I wanted. But for the most part I didn’t enjoy random people. Therefore I would have about 2 sexual partners a year. So injecting hormones into my body on a daily basis seemed crazy to me. Most times just as I was settling into birth control routine me and my partner would be over.

  5. Daphne January 16, 2011 at 9:38 PM - Reply

    I’m not sure there is a solution for this issue – at least, not a simple one. Short of a shift in societal mores in which women, regardless of size are valued and respected, I’m not sure what can be done. France has its own cultural issues with size, so I’m not that surprised by the conclusions made from the results.

    I was aware of birth control methods having a weight limit, but that was after doing my own research. My doctor certainly never informed me of this, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s uncommon knowledge.

    I certainly took some risks as a teenager and young adult. But honestly? My friends, who were all a lot slimmer than I was save one, engaged in those same, or riskier, behaviors. So based on anecdotal evidence, I can’t say that weight was the outlier. As Dre mentioned, in the South (I’m from Georgia), being overweight wasn’t the dealbreaker it might have been in other regions (or…..if I may be candid, if I wasn’t black). So, while I certainly didn’t have a constant barrage of gentlemen callers, I did have some romantic interests. And while I certainly was self-conscious about my size, I can’t say I had any self-esteem issues, either.

    At the end of the day, a combo of things compelled me to change: the possibility of getting pregnant, thus not being able to go to college or graduate, and potentially shaming my family.

    All that said, I’m also not about to deny that being heavy can compel a woman to be more desperate and engage in riskier sexual behavior. Regarding my aforementioned group of friends, there was another girl who was almost as heavy as I was, and I was surprised and sad to learn of some of the things she did. Difference between her and I? Opportunity perhaps, but more importantly, her self-image and esteem were in the toilet.

  6. Serenity April 12, 2011 at 12:42 PM - Reply

    I’m adding on with the dissenters. I am classified as morbidly obese (though I really suspect that I am fine!) and am trying to conceive without success. So what do I have to do? Not plan to get pregnant and get pregnant?

  7. Kaycee July 30, 2011 at 11:43 PM - Reply

    I think folks are getting caught up in the antedoctal and not seeing the article for its value—this IS an issue. Scientists like me don’t use the word prove, but its clear that it is a likelihood. I get that its not politically correct to say, but the truth is it makes sense and has the science to reinforce the thesis.

    I know this to be true for myself and I’ve never been overweight or obese. Self-esteem is important and is the reason we do most of what we do. We can say it isn’t our experience, but that doesn’t make the numbers wrong.

    • Amanda July 31, 2011 at 2:18 PM - Reply

      I agree with Kaycee. Without doubt, anecdotal evidence has value but it seems to be the primary source a lot of people are using to have a negative knee-jerk reaction to the whole topic. There might very well be problems with this study but it’s pretty firmly established that:

      a) Western society places a high value on slimness and generally speaking, is less accepting of larger people – regardless of the attitude within specific communities. The African-American community as a general rule might very well be more accepting of bigger size women but since quite obviously many young Black girls are still having eating disorders, clearly, African-American women aren’t totally oblivious to media messaging and wider American societal pressures and beliefs.

      and b) People with lower self-esteem or self-esteem self-worth issues tend to engage in more self-destructive behaviors – subconsciously or consciously. This isn’t by any means the first study to say that.

      It’s not far-fetched to consider that maybe overweight women in Western society might be more prone to certain dangerous behaviors if one considers those two facts even though it’s by no means a given or a hard and fast rule. Why is it that using those two facts to help assess the potential worth of this study is sparking such an intensely negative reaction?

      • Erika Nicole Kendall July 31, 2011 at 2:52 PM - Reply

        Too busy playing the role of PR instead of, at the bare minimum, using this as something to keep in mind when we approach our daughters. Growing up in a culture that puts a strange priority on being and looking a certain way (which is a double whammy for young girls of color), if a young girl feels an inordinate amount of low esteem because of this, she might be easily exploited. The willingness to downplay this can turn into dismissing this issue for a young girl and, in fact, leave her to grow up as an adult who is still easily exploited. It’s anecdotal, but it is “the story” for MANY women and girls right now. I cringe at how easily this was dismissed, just to protect “someone’s” image. Jeez.

  8. Daphne July 31, 2011 at 6:48 PM - Reply

    Well, I’m not sure the disagreement is so much “playing the PR role” as “personal experiences don’t line up with the study” position. I don’t dispute the correlative nature of this issue. But I also think that a study won’t open people’s eyes to this if what they SEE or think they know about what goes on with themselves or those around them doesn’t line up.

    Not to mention that the people who commented may not represent the majority of the view on this issue. If this article was posted on another site, or if we’re being non-PC here, was directed to an audience that was mostly white or Asian, the responses would have likely been different. Culture matters.

    I think it’s a bit unfair to declare those who challenge the study’s conclusions as playing the PR role. Especially since the very first commenter, Dre, brought up a valid question about HOW overweight vs normal was determined in the French study. For the record, the determination was based on BMI, which is problematic to start with. Not to mention the study relied on self-reported weight from the participants.

    After reading the original article again and reviewing the results of actual study, I think iVillage made its own conclusions about which the study never specified. The study concluded that:

    There is a link between BMI and sexual behaviour and adverse sexual health outcomes, with obese women less likely to access contraceptive healthcare services and having more unplanned pregnancies. Prevention of unintended pregnancies among these women is a major reproductive health challenge. Healthcare professionals need to be aware of sensitivities related to weight and gender in the provision of sexual health services.

    Where exactly was self-esteem measured in this study?

    Also, according to the study (full text):
    Obese women were as likely to report a sexually transmitted infection in the past five years as women with a normal BMI (table 6), but obese men aged under 30 had a higher prevalence of self reported sexually transmitted infections in the past five years (P=0.005) (table 7)⇓. Obese men aged 30-49 with more than one sexual partner were less likely to have used condoms in the past 12 months than normal weight men (P<0.05). These associations were not true for overweight men.

    So, unplanned pregnancies are an issue, presumably because obese women are less likely to see their doctor about contraception, and less use of condoms. STDs are a whole other issue, according to the study. None of that was correlated to self-esteem or self-image in the study. I’m not saying there is none – it just wasn’t measured in the French study.

    In this instance, a non-scientific website drew conclusions of a certain nature, and yet people bringing forth their anecdotal evidence to disagree are playing the role of PR? So iVillage, via the original article, couldn’t have an agenda, but anyone who dissents does?

    To be clear, I wholeheartedly agree that we should talk to our girls about this. My issue is that iVillage’s article is rather unconvincing, and given who I suspect their target audience is, I have no problems admitting my suspicions about their agenda.

    • Erika Nicole Kendall July 31, 2011 at 7:46 PM - Reply

      “In this instance, a non-scientific website drew conclusions of a certain nature, and yet people bringing forth their anecdotal evidence to disagree are playing the role of PR? So iVillage, via the original article, couldn’t have an agenda, but anyone who dissents does? ”

      My personal responses are related more to the dissention I’ve received since I originally posted my comments on this post almost a year ago, not necessarily the comments here. And even still, there’s a ginormous difference between “Well, in my experiences…” and “There’s no possible way…” Sharing anecdote to disagree is largely different from sharing anecdote with the goal of refuting something’s possible existence. Denying the existence of a problem = playing PR for the “maligned” group… at least, that’s how I see it.

      And, for the record, I automatically assume EVERYONE has an agenda. I simply choose to use you (generalized) and your agenda as I see fit for discussion. *shrug*

  9. Alasha July 31, 2011 at 7:28 PM - Reply

    Oh for pete’s sake. I’d bet good money that the whole obesity+increased unplanned pregnancy bit is better tied to birth control pill dosage not being adeqate for an overweight woman rather than the self esteem issue.

    I also could’ve sworn that I just read another recently published study stating that overweight women were getting in in in greater numbers than their normal weighted counterparts. Since I can’t publish the direct link from my research database, here’s an article about it.

    http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2008/10/31/Overweight_women_have_more_sex/UPI-68841225431194/

  10. Kaycee July 31, 2011 at 9:04 PM - Reply

    I see folks are getting their feelings hurt and that’s never the point on this blog, so I will say this.

    “But I also think that a study won’t open people’s eyes to this if what they SEE or think they know about what goes on with themselves or those around them doesn’t line up.”

    This is alarming and true. And its killing us. We have got to stop the “me and my friends don’t…” as an excuse to dispute data. Especially that published in a peer-reviewed journal.

    We are special just like our Moms told us, but we are not perfect, invincible, and always the exception. We ARE the rule. That’s why it’s called the rule, after all.

    Don’t let your pride kill you, yall. Whether it’s weight, unprotected sex, or any other malady/unsafe practice.

    • Daphne July 31, 2011 at 10:15 PM - Reply

      Kaycee,

      I can assure you my feelings are not hurt. My long-winded post was due to my read of the study on which the article was based, and refuted the conclusions that the iVillage article came to. So, ultimately, for me, it’s not about using anecdotes to refute what could be a real issue – it’s using the article as “data,” when the article blatantly misconstrued the results of the study. That’s my point. It has nothing to do with pride, feeling special, being the exception, denying anything, etc. There aren’t that many comments on this post, and from what I read, I don’t think anyone was denying the correlation full-stop. I’m certainly not. What I got was that issue may be more nuanced than: Overweight/obese women tend to have low self-esteem issues and thus engage in riskier sexual behaviors. For example, if standard contraception (outside of condoms) doesn’t work because you’re heavier, that throws a money wrench into the statement, for obvious reasons.

      @ Erika,
      Thanks for clarifying. You responded to Amanda, who responded to Kaycee, who appeared to address the comments here, so I thought you were addressing the same.

      • Kaycee July 31, 2011 at 10:50 PM - Reply

        Daphne—you misunderstood my comment. It was not directed at you. It was an observation I made after reading over several responses. I think people are choosing not to be honest with themselves because of the variables of the study: weight, sex, consequences and stigma.

        The reaction to the article/study’s conclusions were not logical. They were emotional. And that’s fine. But such responses are often why we make poor choices in life.

        I think taking issue with iVillage is okay, but takes much needed attention away from the bigger picture—a healthy body, mind, and spirit is vital to our growth as human beings.

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