Last month, Dr. Margaret S. Villers and other medical researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina presented their findings of a new study on the relationship between weight and sexual behavior among teen girls at the annual meeting of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. They found that teen girls who are considered overweight or obese are more likely than thinner teen girls to start having sex at a young age, to have multiple sexual partners, and to have sex without using condoms or other forms of contraceptives.
More On The Study
Dr. Villers and her colleagues used data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control – a survey that interviews middle and high school students across the United States about a wide range of topics. Of the study’s sample of 21,773 teen girls, the researchers found three key differences between girls classified as “normal weight” and those classified as “overweight” or “obese”:
- Six percent of normal weight girls had sex before the age of 13, while 11% of overweight girls and 15% of obese girls had sex before the age of 13.
- Thirty-nine percent of normal weight girls reported having three or more sexual partners during their teen years compared to 45% of overweight girls and 47% of obese girls.
- Overweight and obese girls were almost 20-30% less likely than thinner girls to use condoms or other forms of contraception.
Given the link between weight and attractiveness – a societal standard of beauty that favors skinny bodies over fat bodies – some might find the study’s findings surprising: why are heavy girls having more sex with more partners? Dr. Villers and her fellow researchers provide two possible explanations for the difference in sexual behavior among teen girls: development during puberty and self-esteem. The researchers suggest that overweight and obese girls may begin puberty sooner and thus develop faster, which may put them at risk from more pressure from boyfriends and friends to have sex.
The researchers also suggested that, due to the relationship between obesity and deflated self-esteem, plus-size girls may be more likely to feel unattractive. As a result, they may start having sex earlier to keep a partner, or they may not feel good enough about themselves to say “no” to sex or to enforce contraceptive use with a partner. MSNBC, which reported about this study last month, noted the importance of healthy diets and exercise and, more importantly, of encouraging teen girls to feel good about themselves and their bodies.