Kirstie Alley inspired a tabloid-frenzy this week with her explanation for why she decided to dramatically lose 100 pounds: "I didn't want to have fat sex."
Despite a headline pile-on, it's far from the first time the notorious yo-yo dieter has uttered the term "fat sex." In 2004, she told Oprah that she had been celibate for four-and-a-half years because she didn't want "to have fat sex." This inspired a screaming headline on the cover of Star magazine: "Too Fat for Sex!" Later, she elaborated to People magazine: "I'm not going to have sex while I am fat. That's one thing you won't see me doing ever while I'm fat." The term showed up yet again on her TV show "Fat Actress."
What is it, exactly, about the idea of fat sex that so frightens Alley and inspires such media rubbernecking? And how is fat sex different from any other kind of sex? Who better to answer these questions than Hanne Blank, whose book "Big Big Love: A Sex and Relationships Guide for People of Size (and Those Who Love Them)" just so happened to hit shelves this week. I spoke with Blank, editor of the fat-loving anthology "Zaftig: Well Rounded Erotica," about everything from sexual myths about the plus-sized to the erotic perks of fatness to bizarre fetishes like "feederism."
What did you make of Kirstie Alley's comment about fat sex?
What I make of that is that she, like a lot of people, has probably ideas about what having sex is like with a fat body. She probably doesn't like her own body when it's fat and she probably has a really hard time feeling that she is sexy and desirable when she's fat. I mean this is a woman who's had some really public struggles with her body and has been very public in the past about not being happy when she's big. So, it doesn't really come as a big huge honking surprise to me that she would say, "I don't want to have sex while I'm fat."
Why is a book about fat sex necessary? What is so different about fat sex?
What is so different about fat sex is that it's one of the kinds of sex that mainstream culture tells us we're not supposed to want, have or approve of. There's a machine, a huge cultural and industrial juggernaut that is devoted to making us believe that the right kind of sex and the right kind of sexual desirability is the be-all-end-all.
You argue in the book that sex and fatness actually have some things in common -- can you explain?
Well, you're supposed to not want too much. You're not supposed to revel in either one too much. People don't want to be labeled sluts or assumed to be superficial and only interested in sex. It's also a lot about excess. We have a huge fear and a fascination with excess, especially in American culture. We have a fear of sexual excess and of the excessive body. But we also have a huge fascination with excessive bodies, whether that's excessive in terms of a fat body or in terms of a very, very sexual body.
There are also a lot of taboo things you're not supposed to talk about, things you're not supposed to admit to. It can be really hard for people to admit that, you know, "I don't understand why people get so het up about this whole fat thing, I'm fat and it's just not that big of a deal." In the same way that it can be very hard for people to say, "Yeah, you know, I really don't understand why people get so worked up about casual sex. I have casual sex, I like casual sex, and I don't see why it has to be such a big deal."
What are some of the biggest, so to speak, myths about sex and fatness?
Number one with a bullet point is that fat people don't have sex, that they're somehow not sexual, that fat is the kryptonite of sex -- which is flatly bullshit. It doesn't work that way, and if it did, why would there be so many fat people? I mean, they gotta come from somewhere.
People are also obsessed in this sort of prurient yet horrified way by the idea that if you have sex with a fat person and the fat person gets on top of you that you'll be crushed to death. I think this is kind of hysterical and betrays a certain lack of observation on the part of many people. They think nothing of Kim Kardashian's wedding to this humongous six-foot-nine basketball player -- he's gotta outweigh her at least two and a half times -- but she does not seem to have been crushed to death yet. People don't apply the same logic to fat bodies. It's this idea that fat is this monstrosity, that it's out to get you, it's the bogeyman, you're not going to be able to escape from it.
What's the line between fat admiration and fat fetishism?
For me, I tend to stick pretty closely to a psychiatric definition of a sexual fetish, a paraphilia, which is basically that there is an object whose presence is synonymous with the ability to function sexually. People who have, for instance, a foot fetish may not be interested in having any kind of genital sex with a partner because the only thing that really works for them is feet. With fat fetishism, like any other fetish, it's a fairly small percentage of the population that really requires the presence of a fat body in order to function sexually. Whereas, people who are fat admirers can be anybody -- anybody could fall in love with or be attracted to somebody whose body happens to be fat.
Is there a point where fat fetishism becomes problematic or offensive? I'm thinking of people who are turned on by the visual of fat people stuck in chairs or feederism, where people get off on overweight people eating to the point of excess and sometimes pain.
This is a hard question to answer because there are people who are capable of handling really, really outré desires in a very responsible and respectful way, and there are people who are not. That is true not just for fat but across the board. There are people who are capable of being completely disgusting and revolting and patronizing and horrible with the most mainstream of sexual desires
There are some minefields there, for sure, because fat is such a volatile issue. People tend to respond really strongly to the fact that someone has a sexual interest in fat. And if people have a sexual interest in the humiliation side of the fat experience, then that can be really tricky and difficult to navigate. For a lot of people, when they hear about that stuff their first impulse is to go, "Oh my god, I can't handle this. I really hope nobody who has this fetish ever moves in my zip code." But the truth of the matter is they're already there. There are people with all sorts of weird and wacky sex things going on that you just don't know about.
Are there any sexual benefits to being fat?
Sure. It's gonna be different for different people but there are a lot of people that I've talked to who actually feel sexier and more self-confident when they are bigger as opposed to when they are smaller. For some people, it's as simple as the fact that when you're fat, especially when you're fat to a certain degree, you know from the get-go that you're not going to fit into all of these idealized versions of what bodies are supposed to look like, and so you just stop letting that register on your radar. You can just concentrate on enjoying your body and enjoying your partner.
Another thing that comes up for a lot of people is that fat bodies are really sexy and sensual. There are a lot of textures and there's a lot of skin and surface area, and a lot of sensory nerves. Everything that you've got on a thin body you've just got more of on a fat body.