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Sex and Sports: A Better Combo Than You Think

Many coaches say athletes should skip sex before the big game. But will doing the deed really hinder performance on the playing field?
Sex and Sports: A Better Combo Than You Think

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Muhammad Ali always abstained before hitting the ring. Even Plato said Olympians should avoid sex before competition. But science suggests doing the deed won’t actually zap all that energy or be a distraction during the kick-off. In fact, an orgasm may help combat muscle pain for ladies, while a testosterone boost could even help build strength for men [1]. (As if the act itself wasn’t reason to take part!)


Toning With Testosterone — Why It Matters

Rest assured — a little love making the night before an athletic event probably won’t cause a dirty disadvantage. But some abstinent athletes think being sexually frustrated amps up aggression on the field, or that testosterone — which may strengthen muscles — is used up when players ejaculate. But hop back into bed: A review of sports and sex studies says otherwise! In four separate studies testing strength, aerobic power, and VO2 max, neither abstinent nor sexually active athletes seemed to have an advantage, suggesting sex doesn’t get in the way of playing up to par [2] [3]. The studies have shortcomings, too. The physiological effects studied only looked at how sex affects exhausting activities, so maybe golfers or pro bowlers wouldn’t experience the same results. (Read MoreIs Internet Porn Killing Your Sex Drive?) Sex doesn’t seem to disturb the mental game either, at least for men. In one study, researchers gave both endurance athletes and weight lifters a series of concentration and athletic tests after intercourse and found that having sex beforehand didn’t mess with concentration [4]. But heads up — the study also found having sex within two hours of the test made the subjects less attentive. So stick to cuddling and hydrating the morning of!

Sexy Strength — The Answer/ Debate

The myth that bedtime sex before the big game can hurt performance is just that — a myth. And the good news keeps a’ coming: Research suggests having sex boosts testosterone production in men, which could give guys an athletic edge. One study found testosterone (which is released during orgasm) helped strengthen muscles and leg power — but the subjects got their testosterone boost from a supplement, not by doing the deed [1]. Still, other researchers have found that having sex increases testosterone too, so it can't hurt to try [5]. And let’s not leave out the ladies, who may have the full-court advantage. Scientists discovered a female orgasm could stop the release of a specific pain transmitter for up to 24 hours, which may help ease muscle pain or soreness. (Who needs icy-hot?!) When it comes to the psychological effects of sex and how it could help make or break athletic performance, the research is lacking. It may simply come down to the individual: If the pre-race jitters make for a bad night’s sleep, sex may be a relaxing distraction. But if getting down and dirty will keep those eyes wide open all night, wait to celebrate after the game.

The Takeaway

Get back in bed! Believe whatever superstitions you like — but science says having sex before the big game won't affect performance.

Expert's Take

We asked our experts their thoughts on the subject. Here's what they had to say. Dan Trink: "While science does not back up the 'no sex before the big game' myth, there is one factor that will trump all others when it comes to an athlete's performance — his or her mindset. If the athlete thinks that sex will have a negative effect on his game, it certainly will. Just as if the athlete thinks that tying his shoes three times while standing on a bench wearing his favorite blue socks will improve his game, that probably will as well. Ultimately it is the brain and not the groin that is the most important factor." Ian Kerner"One of the reasons many athletes abstain from sex the night before is not because of the sex itself, but because of everything that happens around it: partying, dancing, eating, drinking. There's nothing wrong with some good healthy comfort sex, but you have to make sure to hit the sack and get a good night's sleep afterwards. More and more studies are pointing to the health benefits of sex. People who have healthy sex lives end up having more confidence and self-esteem and doing better at work." Photo by Ben Draper. Do you refrain before the game? Sound off below!

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Works Cited +

  1. Testosterone dose-dependently increases maximal voluntary strength and leg power, but does not affect fatigability or specific tension. Storer, T.W., Magliano, L., Woodhouse, L., et al. Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism, and Molecular Medicine, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, Los Angeles, CA. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2003 Apr;88(4):1478-85.
  2. Does sex the night before competition decrease performance? McGlone, S., Shrier, I. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, 2000 Oct;10(4):233-4.
  3. Effects of sexual intercourse on maximal aerobic power, oxygen pulse, and double product in male sedentary subjects. Boone, T., Gilmore, S. Department of Exercise Physiology, College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 1995 Sep;35(3):214-7.
  4. Effect of sexual activity on cycle ergometer stress test parameters, on plasmatic testosterone levels and on concentration capacity. A study in high-level male athletes performed in the laboratory. Sztajzel, J., Periat, M., Marti, V., et al. Cardiology Center and Medical Policlinics, University Hospital, Geneva, Switzerland. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 2000 Sep;40(3):233-9.
  5. Salivary testosterone levels in men at a U.S. sex club. Escasa, M.J., Casey, J.F.,Gray, P.B. Department of Anthropology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, NV. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2011 Oct;40(5):921-6. Epub 2010 Dec 17.