When it comes to sex, size shouldn't matter.
So why do so many people think it does? The unfortunate truth is that "fat" is still seen as one of society's worst insults, with America's shameful tendency toward weight discrimination extending beyond retailers and the workplace all the way into the bedroom. As Laura Beck put it in Cosmopolitan, "I'm tired of dropping the truth bomb that fat women have sex lives."
Yes, people of all shapes and sizes have sex. No, it's not a physical feat, nor is it an accomplishment worthy of condescending congratulations.
Every person's sex life is different, but these types of weight-based stereotypes tend to stem from misconceptions about sexual desire and physical abilities. These — like so many stereotypes — are reinforced by the media and Hollywood, which continue to marginalize plus-size models in sexy ads while playing up negative tropes about fat characters in movies like Identity Thief. On the opposite extreme, when heavier men or women earn praise or attention, it's often as fetish objects.
It's important that we learn to treat people of all sizes with respect instead of making insulting assumptions or probing into their personal lives. A good place to start is by providing real information regarding the most common questions about sex.
1. Heavier people are having just as much sex as anyone else.
Many people wrongly assume that thin women get most of the action. But this is not the case. Indeed, research suggests that larger women actually have more sex than their thinner counterparts. In a 2008 study that looked at body mass index (BMI), sexual orientation, age of first intercourse and number and frequency of partners, researchers found 92% of women reviewed on the heavier end of the spectrum had a history of sexual intercourse with a man, as opposed to 87% of women with a BMI below 25.
That doesn't mean larger women always have more sex, of course. The point is that one's body size doesn't dictate how much sex he or she has. As one anonymous plus-size woman told Cosmopolitan in their article "What Being a Fat Woman Is Really Like," "I've heard that fat women are easy. I've also heard that fat women never have sex, so I am not sure how one gleans that we're easy if they've never had sex with us. And how are you supposed to respond to that? It's nonsensical."
2. Not into missionary? No problem.
As Marianne Kirby, author of Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere, wrote for xoJane, "Some fat folks are hella bendy and some are not very flexible. ... Just as there are accommodations for fat bodies in yoga, there are accommodations for fat bodies in sex."
The fact that we even question this at all is ridiculous — no one questions whether taller-than-average people have varied sex lives. Plus, Kirby suggests that partners can help each other to find positions that are the most fun, even using tools like the Liberator wedge designed for people of all body shapes to reach deeper penetration.
As Beck wrote in Cosmopolitan, "Is your partner fat? Well, that might mean certain positions are off-limits. And it also means that certain positions are extra exciting!" In short, bigger bodies are not a roadblock to interesting sex lives.
3. Yes, fat women can be on top.
While we're on the topic of positions, you don't have to be a waif to be on top. As artist Jes Baker promises in the Huffington Post, "A guy can pick you up off your feet, and it won't break his back."
Or, as Hanne Blank wrote in Big Big Love, Revised: A Sex and Relationships Guide for People of Size (and Those Who Love Them), "No, you aren't going to crush, smother, suffocate, smash or otherwise injure anyone you have sex with ... even if you're honest-to-god super duper fataroonie fatapalooza fat fattity fat. Really."
4. Size has been found to help men last longer in bed.
Size could matter when it comes to one subject: endurance. A 2010 study found that larger men last longer in bed. The yearlong study of body mass index and male sexual performance found that heavier men were able to make love for an average of 7.3 minutes, compared to slender men who could barely hold on for 108 seconds. This huge discrepancy was supposedly due to men with excess fat having higher levels of the female estradiol sex hormone, which slows progression to orgasm.
And while the science might not be as clear, it's not like heavier women can't last in bed either. "No, we don't run out of breath 10 seconds into doing the deed," Beck wrote in Cosmopolitan. And if they are, it's probably from desire, not exhaustion.
5. "Sexy" is not synonymous with "small."
No matter what marketers try to tell us, there is no "sexy" size. Likewise, the assumption that all men prefer women (or men) who look like Victoria's Secret models just isn't true. A 2012 study found that body size preferences are not innate but change based on personal circumstances. When under stress, for instance, men of all sizes tend to prefer heavier women.
The study is intriguing evidence that perhaps it doesn't take hundreds of years for people's desires to change. In the meantime, even if you aren't currently attracted to larger bodies, there are plenty of other people who already are.
"So, of course, some men are attracted to this model ideal but I think, overall, in my experience, I'm clearly not like a model's body type and I have no problem, you know, getting dates and I have a boyfriend," plus-size fashion blogger Gabi Fresh wrote.
The same applies to female preferences for men. In the Frisky's "How Having Sex With A Fat Guy Changed Men," Molly Ren wrote that she found herself brushing off her own long-held judgments when sleeping with a heavier guy friend. "He is still the only person who could rile me up using just his fingers."
6. Different people are turned on by different things.
In fact, as the author of Round World: Men Who Chase Obesity, and What Drives Us, Dan Oliverio is an example of men who have a clearly stated preference for heavier, in this case, male, partners. "Fat made such a big difference in my sexuality," he told the Huffington Post.
Sometimes this preference unfortunately veers into fetishism, as one plus-size woman told the Cut: "When I joined Tinder this summer, more guys approached me in the first week than had approached me my whole life," she said. Treating her like an object for their size fantasies, some men who messaged often did so vulgarly, "think[ing] they can go right into the sex stuff because they assume bigger women are starved for sex."
But others voiced their admiration respectfully and appreciated her figure. "I personally don't mind at all when a guy is vocal about being into my fatness. I'm actually super turned on," one woman told Cosmopolitan. "For me it's all about intent."
7. Body confidence is everyone's right.
Body image is one of the biggest insecurities in Western culture today — especially for women. This applies both to women who would be considered thin and those who are not. Personal satisfaction, in other words, is about confidence, not size. After gaining weight, one woman told Cosmopolitan, "I'm nearly 300 pounds now, and I've never felt sexier. My curves and rolls are soft and make me feel decidedly feminine, and I love it when I have a partner who isn't afraid to touch it and really sink their hands in."
And while not every person is as confident, many men and women say they've grown prouder of their bodies over the years, and their sexual experiences improved as a result. A 2012 study published in the journal Fat Studies found, "The women who embody, or are working to embody, fat pride, can move beyond trying to change their bodies and focus on developing satisfying relationships with lovers and themselves."
Having a reassuring sexual partner can make a difference. As Yesika Salgado declared in her badass slam poem "How Not To Make Love to a Fat Girl," "I am larger than most women, and sometimes I care about this more than who I am sleeping with does ... the best sex I've ever had was with a man who touched and kissed all of me."
8. Making "fat sex" taboo has real-life consequences.
"Fat sex seems to be the most threatening topic ever for a whole lot of people," Kirby wrote. "Fat sex gets fetishized and turned into a taboo topic. Maybe that's why I'm so eager to talk about it all the time — because fat sex is often just sex like anyone else may be having."
Its distinct ways should be celebrated, not shamed. We need to talk about sex for all body shapes more openly. Studies have found that doctors are less likely to do appropriate follow-up with seemingly overweight women, from asking important questions to STI prevention counseling because they assume they're not having sex. That's not true, and the stereotype is doing more harm than we may realize.
This doesn't make every fat person a sexual spokesperson, nor does it mean anyone can freely poke their nose into others' sex lives. Sex is about respect, and that goes for the questions you ask about someone's sex life. But no one should assume it's not happening — or offer patronizing "you go, girl"s when they find out it is.