Much has been said and written about how many calories human beings burn during sexual activity. Physicians estimate that the average caloric expenditure during sex is probably a lot lower than most of the claims that have been tossed around in the popular media. However, no one has actually scientifically studied exactly how many calories we burn when we have sex…until now. A new study published in the journal PLoS ONE finally gives us some hard numbers to consider and directly compares sex to another type of exercise.
In this study, 21 heterosexual couples aged 18-35 who were in sexually monogamous, long-term relationships had sex for science (it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it, right?). Specifically, they were asked to have sex in the privacy of their own homes on four separate occasions and to practice their “usual” sexual activities. To that end, they were instructed not to use Viagra or any other performance enhancement drugs and they were told to avoid any “paraphilic” (i.e., unusual) sexual activities. During each event, the couple members were told to wear an armband that could record the amount of energy expended. Participants were supposed to put the armband on as soon as foreplay began and to take it off at the end of their sexual encounter. For comparison purposes, each participant also wore the armband during a 30-minute jog on a treadmill so that researchers could see how sexual activity stacks up with running.
On average, participants’ sexual activity sessions lasted about 25 minutes, although there was a substantial range that went from 10 minutes on the low end to 57 minutes on the high end. To be perfectly clear, these numbers include time spent on foreplay as well as time spent on sexual intercourse. Across the four sessions, male participants burned an average of 101 calories each time (or 4.2 calories per minute), while female participants burned 69 calories (or 3.1 calories per minute).
In comparison, participants burned more than twice as many calories during a 30-minute run on the treadmill. Specifically, men burned 276 calories (9.2 calories/minute), while women burned 213 calories (7.1 calories per minute). Thus, on average, people exerted more energy while exercising compared to having sex. However, there was substantial individual variability. In fact, for some participants, they actually burned more calories while having sex compared to jogging. Please keep in mind that averages, while informative, do not tell the full story. “Sex” means different things to different people and, consequently, it can burn varying amounts of calories depending upon your specific activities, not to mention your unique body composition. It is also worth highlighting that this research focused on young, healthy, able-bodied, heterosexual folks, which means that these averages would not necessarily hold for more diverse populations.
Although sexual activity tended to burn fewer calories than running, it is worth noting that both men and women reported that sex was more enjoyable and pleasurable than jogging on the treadmill. So, perhaps the main take home message from this study is that if we want to design exercise programs that people will actually stick with, perhaps sex should be a big part of the menu.
To read more about this research, see: Frappier, J., Toupin, I., Levy, J. J., Aubertin-Leheudre, M., & Karelis, A. D. (2013). Energy expenditure during sexual activity in young healthy couples. PLOS ONE, 8(10), e79342.
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