Does Sex Affect Athletic Performance?

Whenever a major sporting competition is about to occur, it’s common to see news articles about athletes who say they will be abstaining from sex until the event is over. Many athletes and coaches are worried that getting it on before a big sporting event could potentially hurt performance.

But is this concern truly warranted? Does sex really have any effect on athletic performance one way or another?

Research suggests not. For example, in a new (but very small) study published in the journal Sexual Medicine, 8 participants (7 men, 1 woman) underwent exercise testing on three different mornings [1]. Each morning varied in terms of what participants did the night before: (1) they had sexual intercourse (with orgasm), (2) they did not have sexual intercourse, or (3) they did yoga. Participants were tested for strength, endurance, and reaction time the following morning, and each participant was tested under all conditions.

It turned out that there were no differences in exercise performance across the three conditions, meaning that sexual activity did not appear to negatively affect their abilities the next day. They only thing the researchers found was that sex was linked to lower systolic blood pressure the following morning, especially when orgasms were described as highly pleasurable.

Of course, this research is very limited in that we’re dealing with a tiny sample. It’s wise to avoid drawing sweeping conclusions from small studies like this because they often don’t replicate (in part, because they may not even have the power to detect true differences across conditions). That said, these findings are consistent with the overall body of research in this area. In fact, a systematic review of all the literature on this topic published a few years back concluded that there's no evidence to support the idea that sex before participating in sports is necessarily a bad idea [2].

That review suggested that it might not be sex itself, but rather the timing of sex that seems to matter most. Specifically, if sex happens right before the event (as in two hours or less beforehand), it may be harmful to performance; however, sex the night before seems to have no effect.

With all of that said the effect of sex on athletic performance may vary across persons because sex doesn't necessarily affect everyone the same way. For example, some people get sleepy after sex, while others don’t. Also, if sex isn’t good, that could potentially have a negative carryover effect into subsequent athletic performance due to distraction. This suggests that how sex affects a given athlete probably has a lot more to do with psychology than anything.

For a closer look at the research in this area, check out the video below.

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[1] Zavorsky, G. S. et al. (2019). Sexual activity the night before exercise does not affect various measures of physical exercise performance. Sexual Medicine.

[2] Stefani, L., Galanti, G., Padulo, J., Bragazzi, N. L., & Maffulli, N. (2016). Sexual activity before sports competition: a systematic review. Frontiers in Physiology7, 246.

Image Source: 123RF/Valeriy Lebedev

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