Every Friday on the blog, I answer people’s questions about sex, love, and relationships. This week’s question comes from a reader who wanted to know whether sex truly is one of the best forms of exercise you can get.
I’ve heard that you can burn a ton of calories having sex, but how much can I realistically expect to burn?
Great question! I too have heard some people say that sex can be as good as going to the gym. For example, Gizmodo recently reported that one bout of sexual activity burns exactly 179 calories, a number they supposedly arrived at via the Nike Fuelband, a wristband that keeps track of your fitness activities and caloric expenditures. If true, that would mean that sex really is a decent workout. However, it’s unclear what to make of the 179 figure, given that Gizmodo failed to report any of the details regarding how they arrived at it (e.g., what sexual activities were performed and how long did they last?). So, for perhaps a more reliable estimate, let’s take a look at what a group of 20 physicians and PhDs had to say about the typical number of calories expended during sex in an article published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine. According to them:
“A man weighing 154 lb (70 kg) would, at 3 METs, expend approximately 3.5 kcal per minute (210 kcal per hour) during a stimulation and orgasm session. This level of expenditure is similar to that achieved by walking at a moderate pace (approximately 2.5 miles [4 km] per hour). Given that the average bout of sexual activity lasts about 6 minutes, a man in his early-to-mid-30s might expend approximately 21 kcal during sexual intercourse. Of course, he would have spent roughly one third that amount of energy just watching television, so the incremental benefit of one bout of sexual activity with respect to energy expended is plausibly on the order of 14 kcal.” 
Put another way, a typical young guy might burn an extra 2.3 calories per minute having sex compared to changing channels on the remote control. When this number is multiplied by the (relatively short) length of the average intercourse session, it should be abundantly clear that sex isn’t a replacement for going to the gym, nor will it even come anywhere near compensating for an afternoon trip to Starbucks.
That said, the precise number of calories you burn during sex varies across persons depending upon their body weight, as well as the duration and intensity of their activity. So, it would be misleading to suggest that there’s one specific caloric rate we could apply to all persons and sexual situations.
Suffice it to say that, in most cases, sex probably isn't quite the workout that some in the media have claimed. However, keep in mind that you can always make sex “count” for more exercise by changing up your sexual activity patterns. Just like going to the gym, the fitness-related benefits you get out of sex depend upon how much time and effort you put into it.
For past Sex Question Friday posts, see here. Want to learn more about The Psychology of Human Sexuality? Click here for a complete list of articles or like the Facebook page to get articles delivered to your newsfeed.
 Casazza, K., et al.
(2013). Myths, presumptions, and facts about obesity. New England Journal of Medicine, 368, 446-464.
Image Source: iStockphoto.com
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