People who are obese may jump-start their sex lives by shedding extra pounds, according to a new study.

Ditching drastic amounts of weight may not be necessary, the study shows.

Obese participants lost about 13 percent of their body weight over two years. They also significantly improved how they felt about their sex lives.

The findings were presented in Vancouver, Canada, at the annual scientific meeting of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity (NAASO).

Can Good Sex Lead to Weight Loss?

Before Weight Loss

The study included 187 obese people, including 161 women.

Participants were about 45 years old, on average. Their average BMI (body mass index) was nearly 41. A BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.

Participants took a weight loss medication. Every three months, they rated their sexual quality of life. The survey covered six topics:

—Feeling sexually unattractive

—Lack of desire

—Reluctance to be seen undressed

—Difficulty with sexual performance

—Avoidance of sexual encounters

—Lack of enjoyment of sexual activity

At the study’s start, two-thirds of participants said they felt unattractive at least sometimes, and 18 percent said they didn’t enjoy sexual activity.

Women were more likely to report lack of enjoyment and reluctance to be seen undressed.

High BMIs were linked to feeling less sexy and having greater problems with sexual performance.

Prescriptions for Sexual Frustration

After Weight Loss

Weight loss was accompanied by improvements in all six areas. Feeling sexually attractive leads the list.

The benefits began pretty quickly. Ratings jumped during the study’s first three months and then held steady.

“Sexual quality of life markedly improves with intentional weight loss,” write the researchers. They included Martin Binks, PhD. He is the director of behavioral health at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, N.C.

Binks and colleagues call for more studies on the topic. “Sexual quality of life is an important but largely overlooked aspect of obesity,” they write.

Pressure to Be Thin

“There is tremendous social pressure in our society to be thin, so it is not surprising that the majority of women and men in our study felt sexually unattractive,” says Binks in a news release.

He adds that while sexual quality of life is important for both men and women, “women face particular challenges in our society.”

At last year’s NAASO meeting, Binks reported that people who are morbidly obese are 25 times more likely to report problems in their sex lives compared with people of normal weight.

Of course, numbers on scales don’t always determine how sexy a person feels.

Though this study used an unnamed weight loss medication, drugs aren’t the only way to lose weight. Healthy food and fitness habits are cornerstones of lasting weight loss, studies have repeatedly shown. Consult your doctor first.

Visit WebMD's Healthy Sexuality Center

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: North American Association for the Study of Obesity, Vancouver, Canada, Oct. 15-19, 2005. WebMD Medical News: “Sexual Problems Common Among Obese People.” WebMD Weight Loss Clinic Feature: “Better Sex: What’s Weight Got to Do With It?” News release, North American Association for the Study of Obesity.