Teenage girls who are overweight are less likely to be sexually active compared to normal-weight peers, but they are more likely to have risky sex should such intimacy occur.
This sexual health statistic is not new, and was investigated in-depth in 2010 using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Youth Risk Behavior Study.
According to a compilation of study results on risky sexual behavior, experts concluded obese and overweight teenage girls were more likely to have sex before the age of 13 and were more likely than peers to have more than 3 lifetime partners. They were also less likely to use condoms or contraception.
But if obesity is typically associated with low self-esteem and poor body image, and overweight female teens are less likely to become involved in romantic relationships, why is it they are more likely to take sexual health risks?
According to Lara Justice, a Los Angeles based family therapist who did an interview on the topic with VICE, the psychological cause for this sexual disparity may have to do with wanting to please the opposite person.
“Low-self esteem amongst young girls is an overarching problem that affects many young women regardless of height, weight, hair color, body shape, etc.,” she explained. “Some of the overweight clients I have worked with have suffered from self-esteem issues that cause them to put others’ needs in front of their own and have difficulty setting limits.”
In other words, overweight teenagers may feel the need–consciously or subconsciously–to compensate for what they feel they lack in physical attractiveness.
This compensation takes the form of risky sexual behaviors that seem appealing to the other person. Unfortunately, many partners can recognize this insecurity in teenage girls and can use it as leverage to pressure them into things like not using condoms.
For many of these young girls, sex is equated with a feeling of worth and of love.
“In my early 20s, I was quick to sleep with men because I badly wanted to be loved,” wrote VICE correspondent Alison Stevenson. “Sex was the only sort of affection I could get from the guys I fell for. That’s not the case for me today. I now know who I am, and don’t hide it from men I’m dating. I’m a dominant, fat b****. I no longer need a man’s affection to determine my self-worth, and because of this, my sex life has never been better.”
Overweight teenage girls don’t have the confidence that sometimes comes from being an independent adult, and even if they lose their excess weight, their feelings of insecurity often remain.
Regardless of weight, teenage girls–and women in general–need to love themselves for who they are and need to be comfortable in their own bodies before they will stop risky behaviors in an attempt to please others.