Apart from the health benefits that weight-loss surgery can bring, a new study shows it could boost a patient's sex life.
Even better, that boost may often be a lasting one.
After tracking the impact that weight-loss surgery had on the sex life of about 2 000 patients, investigators found that roughly half reported notable improvements in their overall sexual experience as much as five years after surgery.
"We evaluated four aspects of sexual functioning in this study, including frequency of desire, frequency of activity, degree to which physical health limits sexual activity, and satisfaction with sexual life," explained study author Kristine Steffen.
After comparing pre-surgery reports with post-surgery experiences, she and her colleagues concluded that an "improvement in sexual satisfaction generally persists over five years following surgery in both women and men".
Steffen is a professor in the department of pharmaceutical sciences in the school of pharmacy at North Dakota State University, in Fargo.
The study participants had an average age of 47, and the majority of them were women. All had their first weight-loss procedure – in most cases a Roux-en-Y gastric bypass – at one of 10 different hospitals across the United States at some point between 2005 and 2009.
Pre-surgical physical limitations
Prior to surgery, all of the patients were severely obese, with an average body mass index approaching 46. Body mass index (BMI) is a measurement based on weight and height. (For example, a person who is 6 feet (1.82m) tall and weighs 339 pounds (153.7kg) has a BMI of 46.)
The investigators did not ask patients whether a poor sex life was a primary motivator for wanting to undergo surgery. However, the team noted that before surgery about 70% of the women and 74% of the men said they were not satisfied with their sex life. About 60% of women and 67% of men also specifically reported having pre-surgical physical limitations when it came to sexual activity.
One year after surgery, about 92% of the patients were subsequently asked about their sexual function during the prior month. Among those who had indicated sexual dissatisfaction pre-surgery, 56% of the women and 49% of the men said things had improved meaningfully.
In turn, about 1 400 patients were tracked for another four more years following surgery. Steffen noted that at that point "there were fewer women who still had improvement in most domains at year five compared to year one, suggesting that not all improvements observed early after surgery are maintained in all patients over time".
Even so, Steffen said that by the five-year mark, one-third of the women still reported post-surgical improvements in terms of the frequency of their sexual desire and overall sexual activity. Five years out, more than half also said that they had fewer physical health limitations when it came to sexual activity, and more than half still indicated being more satisfied with their sexual life.
Findings not unexpected
As for men, Steffen said that most continued to report sustained improvements in their sex life at the five-year point on all fronts, except in terms of physical health limitations. Still, 68% of men said that such sexual limitations continued to be less of a problem five years out.
Steffen noted that a drop in depressive symptoms seemed to be associated with improvements in sexual function among both men and women. The team did not, however, evaluate the impact surgery may have had on erectile dysfunction, so it remains unclear how much a role that factor may have played.
The findings were published online in the journal JAMA Surgery.
Dr Dana Telem, who co-wrote an accompanying editorial, is an associate professor in the division of minimally invasive surgery at the University of Michigan. She said the findings are not unexpected.
"It is common after bariatric [weight-loss] surgery for patients to feel more energetic and see reductions in weight-related medical conditions that can impact sexual health, even within the first few weeks of surgery," she explained. "Thus, I am not surprised that for many patients this would also translate into improved sexual function."
But Telem added that the investigation highlights a somewhat non-traditional angle on the potential benefits of bariatric surgery, which could help to "reduce barriers such as bias and stigma surrounding the operation".
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