You can’t turn on the TV or log onto social media without hearing or reading someone warning about the obesity epidemic plaguing America. From Jennifer Hudson’s vibrato-laden endorsements of Weight Watchers to New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempts to ban large sodas, we can’t help but think more about how our diets and exercise (or lack thereof) affect our lifestyles. We are struggling, honestly, and African-Americans are having a harder time fighting the battle of the bulge.
According to the Office of Minority Health, 80% of women and 70% of men are overweight, and 49% of African-American adults 20 years old and older are obese. We often talk about how eating poorly and remaining sedentary can lead to weight-related diseases like heart disease and diabetes. We don’t really talk as much about how being overweight affects our sex lives; we don’t often consider the importance of having a healthy sex life as it relates to our overall well-being.
For some, being overweight affects self-confidence, making it difficult to connect with others intimately. Shana* says, “Before I lost over 50 pounds, I used to walk with my head down a lot. I realize now that I was avoiding making eye contact with people.” Danielle has similar memories. “When I was heavier, I didn’t think anyone was paying attention to me anyway, so I didn’t bother much with how I dressed or anything like that,” she reflects. “When it came to having sex, I would get nervous about taking my clothes off because my stomach was so big.” For some, looks matter more than for others.
Drs. Tina Penhallow and Michael Young found that frequency of exercise enhances physical attractiveness and increased energy, and those who exercise regularly are more likely to experience higher levels of confidence, which could translate into better sexual performance. If you’re experiencing self-doubt based on your physical experience, you’re likely to have less-than-fulfilling sexual experiences, because your self-consciousness will distract you from really getting it in. Shana says things are different now, though.
“I used to get some attention from guys, but since I’ve lost the weight, I get stopped almost every day. Believe it or not, I’m dating a guy I met on my running trail!” She goes on to attribute exercise to feeling better about herself, walking more confidently and being less afraid to engage men.
Riley says women notice him more now that his body has changed, but he’s noticed the changes in his stamina and strength. He can pick women up easier now that his arms and legs are stronger, and he finds he doesn’t tire as easily or have to stop and catch his breath as often as he did before he began working out. He even recommends that men invest in ab rollers to strengthen their core and… hip thrusts.
Loren says dating a personal trainer made her realize what true stamina really was. “His dedication to being in shape translates in the bedroom because he is very in tune with his body and really knows how to use it. He has definitely inspired me to get in shape, because I see the connection between being super fit and exuding sexiness.”
Psychologist Dr. Maryanne Fisher writes that rigorous exercise prepares women’s bodies for sex, and post-workout, women’s bodies respond more quickly to sexual stimuli. She also cites a study that found men who engaged in more aerobic exercise experienced more satisfying orgasms and more levels of sexual reliability. Who needs Viagra when you can go for a run?
None of this is to say that you can’t have a fantastic sex life if you’re overweight and physically inactive. If you are experiencing some trouble in this area, you might want to think about making some changes. You can experience increases in both your libido and stamina if you incorporate regular exercise into your normal routine and eat more sex drive-surging foods like watermelon, avocados and asparagus. Research shows that being mindful of what you eat and increasing your level of physical activity can definitely help improve things in the bedroom.
Feminista Jones is a sex-positive Black feminist, social worker and blogger from New York City. She writes about gender, race, politics, mental health and sexuality at FeministaJones.com. Follow her on Twitter at @FeministaJones.