News Flash: Fat Women Have Sex!

Debbie says:

Just so there’s something on your blog roll that isn’t all election all the time …

Everyone and her sister has been linking to this study. The full text of the study apparently is only on line for subscribers, but I dug through the various short news segments and at least found the abstract.

Body mass index was not significantly associated with sexual orientation, age at first intercourse, frequency of heterosexual intercourse, and the number of lifetime or current male partners. Overweight women and obese women were more likely to report ever having male sexual intercourse (P< .001).

I’ve seen worse studies; I’ve written about worse studies. (And I spared you the rant I would have written about this example of pure junk science, which bases its silly conclusions on sixteen (!) subjects.) At least the fat and sex study was based on 7,000 people. The press coverage is uneven and sometimes offensive, and the abstract has problems, but (without having seen the paper) the data might actually be useful.

Just to get my grammar-police moment out of the way first, “male sexual intercourse” is not what a woman has with a man. “Male sexual intercourse” is what a man has with whoever he might happen to be having sexual intercourse with.

Other than that, the study seems to be

1) heterosexist (surprise!), although the abstract does acknowledge the existence of sexual orientation, so there may be more data in the paper itself.
2) focused on intercourse, by which I imagine they mean penis-(or-perhaps-something-else)-in-vagina, as opposed to the myriad other delightful options
3) fatphobic, given that the alternative to being overweight or obese is to be “normal.” Again unsurprisingly, underweight women don’t exist, at least in the abstract
4) more than a little bit judgmental, if we can go by what the investigators are quoted as saying in the press, such as:

Researchers suspect the stereotype could mean overweight women get different messages than thinner women from physicians regarding pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease prevention, and that their sexual behavior might therefore vary.

“Some medical practitioners may not do appropriate follow-up with women who are overweight; they might assume they aren’t having sex unless they are told otherwise,” said Oregon State University Professor Marie Harvey, a specialist in women’s sexual and reproductive health issues.

Is it just me, or do you hear the undertone of “women who get good medical advice don’t have sex” in that statement?

Despite all my caveats, I have to say that I think both the study and the way it’s being reported are basically good things. The researchers set out to see if fat women should get the same level of reproductive counseling as thin women (duh!), but now there’s An Academic Study we can take with us to the doctor if/when we get short shrift. And Dr. Marie Harvey may be a little anti-sex for my taste, but she has some fat-positive ideas:

In a different report on the study, she said, “”I was glad to see that the stereotype that you have to be slender to have sex is just that, a stereotype.”

Now I’m waiting for the study that shows that fat women have all kinds of sex, that we very often find it enjoyable, and that our partners find us gorgeous!

The ever-reliable Arthur D. Hlavaty was the first person that I saw publicly posting the study. Lynn Kendall provided the ridiculous gait study mentioned above.

6 thoughts on “News Flash: Fat Women Have Sex!

  1. OK, I’m feeling a bit sheepish now because I actually think that the it’s quite plausible that you can tell things not just about sexual responsiveness from gait, but you can tell other things by ‘reading’ the body. That is how people hold themselves and where they are most tense etc.

    Reading this book made a lasting impression on me

    Also the Alexander Principle, (sorry I don’t have time to link to it) and other body work systems.

    I think it’s to do with the connection between mind and body, when trauma or tension builds, it seems as if the body becomes an extention of the mind, and the muscles etc, can store that tension.

    I agree that the study is too small to take seriously though.

  2. I don’t think the obese ought to have sex, obviously. There’s not really anything that needs to be discussed about that.

  3. Stef, I warned you.

    Wriggles, I’m the first to agree that the body and how we use it is a vast source of information about us. I somehow doubt, however, that the researchers in this study were experts on what kind of body language really conveys information about vaginal orgasm (in fact, I’m more than somewhat dubious that that’s included in body-use information at all). More to the point, however, this study is part of a significant trend of “experiments” where people (mostly men) watch women to determine details of their sexuality, and get grants or degrees or get paid to do so. Seems to me that many of them do it for free… And then there’s the small sample size. Give me a study where truly trained observers watch a large sample of people walk to determine, perhaps, whether or not they had hard childhoods, or whether or not they are on the autism spectrum, and I’ll be genuinely interested.

    Patrick, I gave you the benefit of the doubt, and hope you are joking.

  4. I agree Debbie that there is plenty of boondoggling in the research field relating to science and psychology; maybe it’s a bit cruel, but mostly when I hear the phrase, ‘more research is needing’ I see a begging bowl.

    As I said, the numbers are obviously too small, so I agree with you there.
    But, what I read is it not about body language, but the tension in that pelvic girdle area, and around it, which I think is underrated when looking at sexual (dys)function.
    Again, I’ve already been told off about meditation, but yet again I found this out for myself through practising-for a while- that releasing pent up tension here can not only affect sexual function, but things like menstrual cramps; which I virtually ceased to have after a certain point.

  5. Is it just me, or do you hear the undertone of “women who get good medical advice don’t have sex” in that statement?

    I can understand how you get that from the combination of those two paragraphs, but that’s not how I interpreted it. Questions about sexual history and sexual practice are part of a basic medical history, and if doctors are assuming that fat women don’t have sex, and therefore not asking about it, they are almost certainly giving bad advice and/or poor care to their fat patients. Of course, we already knew that fat women tend to get substandard medical care; but the medical profession needs to know that, too.

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