An obese person on a chair at an airport [Photo: Courtesy]

Ask women about obese men and most will invariably concur that "wanaume wanono hawa wezi kazi," a charge to which medical experts positively link to low erectile 'horsepower.' The kitambi (potbelly), experienced women in the know say, has uncanny ways of swallowing the 'cue stick.'

And women are not off the hook either in matters obesity. Doctors also say that obesity-the condition of your body housing excess fat-or being overweight, affects sex life and capacity to conceive. This means men can also say: "wanawake kazi mingi!" Indeed, obesity as a deterrent to (good) sex and reproduction, besides predisposing people to high blood pressure, diabetes, infertility, pregnancy complications and ovarian disease, came to light during the World Obesity Symposium in Nairobi in November last year.

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Dr David Thuo, an obstetrician gynaecologist told the audience that obesity has multifaceted disadvantages against procreation – both as an act of pleasure as well as mode of reproduction. "Obesity represents a state of hormone imbalance as levels of sex hormone-binding globulin decrease linearly with percentage of body fat," Thuo said. "For women, this leads to increased free androgen (masculine hormone) which then creates conditions that lower fertility levels."

Not only does flab increase the odds that a woman will conceive; it also lowers her libido. Obesity, Dr Thuo added, is a conduit for suffering from polycystic ovarian disease. Women with this syndrome have enlarged ovaries that contain small collections of fluid - called follicles - located in each ovary as seen during an ultrasound exam. Polycystic ovarian disease may lead to infrequent or prolonged menstrual periods.

Flab lowers libido [Photo: Courtesy]

Dr Thuo further argues that obesity recreates characteristics of ageing in women with all the hallmarks of menopause: headaches, memory loss, irregular menses, hot flushes, and low sex drive. The changes are caused primarily by hormonal imbalance, which in this case results from obesity meaning "Women will experience 'dryness' and low libido," Thuo says, adding that too much weight piles pressure on blood vessels that traverse genitalia – the clitoris in women and the penis in men -  thus affecting receptivity to sensation during intercourse. Dr Thuo adds that obesity predisposes one to diabetes and hypertension which complicates response to sex besides being symptoms of heart and blood disease. The Nairobian spoke to some couples about this subject that seems to prick even egos the size of small planets.

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Sheila Njeri, who has been married for nine years, was livid when approached for an interview, but she later gelled on condition her hubby was left in the dark. "We have all but forgotten about sex," she admitted. "My husband is just too big. His libido is at an all-time low and even when I volunteer to go on top he finds it difficult maintaining a firm erection." Sheila blames herself saying she took the advice that a newlywed man has to eat well – that he (and his wife) have to have something to show for the marriage. "I think I overfed him and now I regret the transformation, especially because it is proving difficult getting him back to shape."

But the story is different for Jackline and Moses Mwangi. Moses - who weighed 156Kg three years ago - has managed to drop 70kg because "I knew it was time to act on my weight when one night I dozed off right in the middle of sex," he recalls. "It had been long and I could tell that she was missing intimacy. I was greatly disappointed when I woke up and found that she had left our matrimonial bed for the sofa. It is the moment my ego was squashed." Moses travelled abroad for a month to kick start a weight loss journey. The results are nothing short of exciting for Jackline who now swears she strives to make "myself beautiful for my husband after he sacrificed his time and resources to get back into shape for me."

Being overweight affects the mind [Photo: Courtesy]

Lucy Kung'u, a psychologist at USIU revealed that being overweight also affects the mind. "Physical attraction is important in intimacy," she says. "Couples often meet at the prime of their attractiveness. Body changes that occur with each passing year may alter physical features. And for a spouse who placed a lot of importance on how their partner appeared on the outside, it becomes hard for them to enjoy their sex life". Lucy observes that physical fitness and the general health of a partner comes into play as sex involves physical rigour which may be a challenge to muster for the obese. And while sex is primarily mental, Lucy argues that spouses (mostly men) are aroused visually and therefore "their preferences of 'sexy' may become a stumbling block in achieving good intimacy with their spouse."

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But this, she says, should not be taken to mean that the obese cannot enjoy healthy intimacy. "It is still possible for a couple to have meaningful intimacy if they find acceptance for each other, have mutual love for one another, and can still find the connection" which is the unreserved attraction couple feel when revving up a relationship.