SOME women love the teddy bear comfort an overweight man can provide, but there is no denying that like oil and water, being fat and sexy do not go hand in hand.
The reason for this goes beyond the usual biases society has of people based on their body shape, and beyond anything to do with the general obsession women have with the smooth- talking, movie-star type with a six pack. The connection between a healthy lifestyle and a better sex life goes far deeper than the superficial.
According to general and anti-ageing physician Dr Sandra Knight, intra-abdominal fat, which is found in men with large tummies, can result in erectile dysfunction, because this kind of fat "is extremely toxic and very metabolic".
"It is very important that men and women try to maintain optimal health in order to maintain a long, healthy, sexual life," she said. "However, because the male has an organ that has to be erect, he is going to be under a lot of pressure, and a lot of things can affect whether a man has a good erection."
The doctor, who has worked extensively in public health, said being overweight is one of those things that would affect a man's sex life because:
1. It's a risk factor for diabetes. Intra-abdominal fat makes one prone to diabetes, the doctor said, because this impacts the production of insulin. Diabetes is one of the most common reasons for impotence among men, because it will damage the blood vessels and nerves that control the erection.
2. It affects production of testosterone. Some overweight men have problems becoming sexually aroused because abdominal fat converts testosterone to oestrogen. "Testosterone is one of the hormones that is involved with the whole erectile issue and your virility and your libido," the doctor said.
3. Weight affects penis size. "For every 35 pounds you lose if you are an extremely obese man, you can elongate your penis by an inch. So if you are overweight by at least 35 pounds, it means that you appear one inch shorter," said Dr Knight. This is because when a person gains weight, he/she also puts on fat on the genitalia. This excess weight gives the illusion that a man's penis is actually shorter than it really is, since it is covered by fat.
4. Fat blocks blood flow to the penis. At times it's difficult for an overweight man to keep an erection because excessive abdominal fat affects blood flow. "Because your body is unhealthy, more than likely if you have abdominal fat you would also have fat in your arteries and the penis is a vascular organ which is full of veins and arteries, and what makes your penis hard is the fact that a lot of blood rushes through the penis," said Dr Knight. "If you have arteries and veins that are blocked by fat, then there will not be enough blood going to the penis to fill it up and so your erection becomes soft."
5. It affects agility in the bedroom. Fat men generally have less stamina and this is sometimes reflected in bedroom action. "Your physicality would be affected; so that in itself is going to be an issue," Dr Knight said. "The pressure that you are going to be putting on your heart, just in the act of sex, is going to be so enormous that you'll be prone to a cardiac event, etc, and you have heard of some who have died during sex. Your blood pressure can go up twice as much when you have an orgasm, and your pulse increases," she said.
Added to all these factors, studies have shown that fat men oftentimes have lower self-esteem and have more concerns about body image which could affect their performance in the bedroom. One such study which was published in the British Medical Journal, and carried out by Professor Nathalie Bajos, research director at the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Medicale in Paris, raised a number of concerns about the impact of obesity on the sex life of both men and women.
"Obese men have fewer sexual partners in a 12-month period, but are more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction and develop sexually transmitted infections than normal weight men," the study found.
Dr Knight was keen to point out that skinny men with large stomachs are just as susceptible to these issues, especially those with high cholesterol levels. She said that while maintaining a healthy weight is difficult, it is the most effective way to counteract these issues.
"So I would say to men, you have to pay attention to your health. Smoking and alcohol does affect it enormously, and if you are not living a lifestyle that enhances your health, it's never too late, but you have to start now."