Fat and Sexy — Why the Quality of Our Sexual Desire Is Not Dependent Solely on Physical Look

How do we think about how fat bodies and their eroticization, or exclusion from eroticization, in the 21st century has to do with intersecting forms of embodied oppression such as race, class and gender. The western culture’s ongoing stigmatization of this body as ‘as a symbol of gluttonous obsessions, unmanaged desires and the failed self’ (Murray, S (2004) Locating aesthetics: Sexing the fat woman. Social Semiotics 14(3): 237–247) has sparked academic interest in studying how fat bodies transform sexuality.

Fat Studies, a subfield of sociological research, has primarily sought to challenge prevailing notions of the epidemic of obesity, instead focusing on complex issues surrounding fat sex and sexualities largely unexplored. It is worth remembering that the issues surrounding fat sex do not only apply to the embodied experiences of people of size; though this demographic is differentially affected by media prejudice, street harassment, reduced employment opportunities, and so on.

In order to understand why people feel grossed out when thinking about “fat bodies” having sex, we are often talking about non- or less-pathologized bodies as well — the bodies that rely upon the idea of fat as a constitutive other. The cultural objection of fat people within our culture ‘is what founds the good body and solidifies identity for the thin self’ (Kent, L (2001) Fighting abjection: Representing fat women. In: Braziel, JE, LeBesco, K (eds) Bodies Out of Bounds: Fatness and Transgression, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, pp. 130–150). The process whereby the fat sexual form asserts itself and makes itself visible exerts a profound influence upon the wider culture. As Kent puts it, when ‘the fat body refuses to stay at the margins, other identities will be disturbed as well’.

Alison Winch uses the idea of fat as an abject other to think through some of the ways in which heterosexual women are encouraged to compare their bodies in homosocial networks on a variety of media platforms. Dieting and fitness apps encourage comparisons; women’s magazines promote wide-ranging discussion and objectification. Yet these sites depend upon a notion of self-mastery, creating the required appearance of sexiness that ‘is bound up with a strong work ethic, which demonstrates a disavowal of sexual desire’ (Alison Winch (2016) ‘I just think it’s dirty and lazy’: Fat surveillance and erotic capital. Sexualities. 19, 8, pp. 898–913).

Being “fat” is merely a societal label that does not represent the quality of one’s sex life. The label might have negative consequences for one’s professional and social life. But in terms of the quality, quantity, and mere enjoyment of sex, the research consistently shows that whether you’re skinny or obese, small or tall — the quality of sex you have depends on a lot more factors than your physical self. In fact, you might want to examine the quality of the sex partner you have, and the quality of peer network that surrounds you, to evaluate the quality of your sexual activity more objectively.

About the Author

Dr. Damian Jacob Sendler is a Harvard educated sexologist, based in New York City. He is the principal research investigator at the Felnett Health Research Foundation, where his studies examine the relationship between technology use and safe sex practices, sexual perversions, consent in sex, the LGBTQ health, and health promotion. You may visit his lab’s website, at www.damiansendler.com, for more information.