Fat Girls Are Kinkier

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From The Guardian’s column where people reveal bits and bobs about their sex lives:

My life in sex: ‘I’ve been told that, as a fat girl, I should be grateful for attention’

Well, yes and no, yes and no.

Since I started dating in 2015, I’ve been flashed, stood up, verbally abused and generally used as a replacement for masturbation. I’ve lost count of how often I’ve been ghosted – both before and after sex. I’ve been told that, as a fat girl, I should be grateful for attention. There have been excuses (misses his ex, etc) but, mostly, men just vanish. I had a lovely date who told me his daughters had made him more empathic. He said he couldn’t wait for our second date, then… gone. Another guy dumped me because I was “just too big”. This was two weeks after I went on the pill at his request. He was living illegally in a council flat with all his clothes in one bag, smoked like a chimney and the sex was underwhelming, but my size was the problem?

There is, of course, size and size. We’re never quite sure these days when someone says “fat” whether they mean 3 lbs over the Victoria’s Secret model size or something that makes Beth Ditto look anorexic. But the thing is we do have academic research on this. And the truth is that fat girls are kinkier. The underlying reason being that the meet market really is a meat market. All are always trading their varied attributes for those of others. And if conforming to societal standards of beauty isn’t quite what is available to be traded then other things are and will be. This isn’t, by the way, the patriarchy nor even that all men are pigs. It’s just reality. For women are doing that trading just as much as men. Those who do conform to those ideals aren’t trading other things:

Overweight adolescents and risky sexual behaviour
Hope Corman, Nancy Reichman, Susan Averett 06 August 2010

Obesity and teenage sex have become social and public health issues in developed countries. This column looks at the effects of being overweight on attitudes to sex among teenage girls in the US. While obesity is associated with less vaginal intercourse, overweight teenage girls are at least 15% more likely to have had anal sex, with a high chance of sexually transmitted disease.

Obesity has become a pressing public health issue in the US and most other developed countries, and increasingly in developing countries. Teenage girls have not been spared; between the 1960s and 2003-2005, the prevalence of obesity in girls aged 12 to 19 in the US increased from 4.7% to over 17% (National Centre for Health Statistics 2010).

Recent studies in the economics literature have considered the effects of obesity on the sexual behaviour of teenage girls, which is viewed through a lens of assortative mating in a market for sexual partners. The working hypothesis has been that as an aspect of physical appearance, being overweight may be a liability in the adolescent dating market.

These studies have found that girls who are overweight or obese are more likely than their recommended-weight peers to delay engaging in sexual intercourse (Cawley et al. Sobal 2006 and Sabia and Rees 2010). While this is an interesting and important finding, initiating sexual intercourse may not be the most significant sexual behaviour to study from a public health standpoint.

Recent evidence from the Centres for Disease Control indicates that 1 in 4 young women between the ages of 14 and 19 in the US is infected with at least one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) – human papillomavirus (HPV), chlamydia, herpes simplex virus, and trichomoniasis (CDC 2010). Given the high prevalence and public health importance of STDs, the importance of peer networks in adolescents’ lives, and economic theory suggesting that girls who are perceived (or perceive themselves) as less attractive will be willing to incur greater risks in order to attract a partner. Boys, according to this line of thinking, would move to less physically attractive matches in order to find willing partners for risky sex. A focus on risky sexual behaviour – as opposed to any sexual intercourse – thus seems warranted.

In recent research (Averett et al. 2010), we use data from The National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health to investigate effects of adolescent girls’ obesity on their propensity to engage in risky sexual behaviour. We use a variety of econometric techniques, considering both absolute weight and weight relative to other girls in the individual’s school, and considered three different behaviours that place girls at risk for contracting STDs – vaginal intercourse without a condom, sex while under the influence of alcohol, and anal intercourse. To put the last behaviour in context, recent figures indicate that 11% of adolescent girls age 15-19 in the US in 2002 had ever engaged in anal sex (Lindberg et al. 2008), a behaviour that is associated with high STD risk among young heterosexual women (Jenness et al. 2003).

Our findings confirm previous research indicating that overweight or obese girls are less likely to be sexually active than other girls. The authors also found that as a result of being less sexually active, overweight or obese girls are less likely to have vaginal intercourse without a condom. However, overweight or obese girls are not less likely to have sex under the influence of alcohol, and once they have had vaginal intercourse, their consistency of condom use is no different from that of their recommended-weight peers. Our most striking finding however, is that overweight or obese girls are at least 15% more likely than their recommended-weight peers to have had anal intercourse.

These findings make clear the importance of going beyond the question of just any sexual intercourse when characterising the sexual behaviour of teenage girls. Our findings also illustrate the benefits of using multifaceted and contemporary measures of risky sexual behaviour. If we had only considered outcomes related to vaginal intercourse, we would have concluded that overweight and obese girls are less likely than their recommended-weight peers to engage in risky sexual behaviour.

By considering heterosexual anal intercourse – a risky behaviour that is on the rise both in the general population and among teens (Mosher et al. 2005, Lescano et al. 2009) – our conclusions are very different. Our article contributes to the growing literature on the consequences of body weight by identifying a behavioural source of health risk resulting from overweight relatively early in the life – risky sexual behaviour among adolescent girls. Our findings underscore the urgency of both stemming the tide of the obesity epidemic and educating teenagers about safe sex.

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