June 6, 2019

Breaking: You Can Have Sex Before Exercising

No, having sex before a sports game or working out won’t “throw you off.”
Written by
Jessica Tholmer
Published on
June 6, 2019
Updated on
What's changed?
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There are so many misconceptions and myths when it comes to sex: There are myths about how the female orgasm can be achieved, or if the g-spot even exists. There are myths about the importance of penis size and myths saying you can tell how big a person’s genitals are just by looking at their hands and feet. 

To put it bluntly — plenty of what we grew up hearing about sex is just not true. 

One of those myths we’d like to put to rest right now is that having sex before a big game or competition, or rigorous exercise, will “throw you off.” 

Atlantic writer James Hamblin, MD, debunks this particular sex myth in his recent Atlantic article The Sex Exercise Myth That Won’t Go Away.

Todd Astorino — a California State University professor of kinesiology — told Hamblin the old sex myth “doesn’t seem to make physiologic sense.” Astorino and his team composed a research study in June 2018 that included 12 college-age male athletes performing a series of exercises in the gym. For part of the study, the 12 participants had sexual intercourse the night before these exercises. Alternatively, the 12 participants were also asked to refrain from sexual intercourse on a separate night to compare results in their athletic performance both after a night of intercourse and after a night of refraining from sexual activity. The result? There was no clear difference in their kinetic energy generated throughout the session.

Sex before exercise probably doesn’t affect performance, but the study is still problematic.

While the myth is easily debunked, the study to get there wasn’t ideal. It would be helpful to learn more about the effect of (or possible relationship between) sex and competitive sports or rigorous exercise on other sexes, various ages, and non-athletic folks. Astorino’s study just wasn’t comprehensive enough for anyone to conclude that having sex before exercising or playing a sport has a negative effect on performance. 

In a January 2019 report, Sexual Activity the Night Before Exercise Does Not Affect Various Measures of Physical Exercise Performance, Gerald S. Zavorsky, Eleftherios Vouyoukas, and James G. Pfaus also studied male-identifying athletes. The eight participants were tested on their competitive performance in three different situations: having no sexual intercourse the night before athletic activity; having sexual intercourse the night before; and doing yoga the night before athletic activity. One interesting result from the test was that a male’s systolic blood pressure may be reduced if orgasm is achieved the night before physical exercise. However, as the study states, they “were unable to demonstrate a statistically significant difference in physical exercise performance in any of the three conditions.” 

So...women and sex before exercise: Is there a correlation?

Again, probably not. It’s disappointing that a very tiny amount of research has taken place when it comes to the female orgasm and athletic performance. In a study conducted in 1968 by W.R. Johnson, 14 female-identifying former athletes were tested on how sexual intercourse affected their strength during an athletic event. In one test session, the women had engaged in sexual intercourse the night before their muscle strength was tested. The second test session took place six days after sexual intercourse. In both cases, no connection was found between sexual intercourse and muscular strength in any of the female participants. 

There are plenty of factors that may affect performance during a rigorous exercise session or a competitive sport, but it just isn’t entirely fair to include “sex” as one of those things. As these studies illustrate, the definition of sex in this context and in former studies is pretty limited. When one hears “sex,” what comes to mind? If you are a cis-male hetero athlete, you may be thinking of one particular definition of sex, but what if you are a cis-female lesbian athlete? What if you are a bisexual athlete? What if you are a nonbinary athlete who engages in sexual activity with mostly men? There are so many versions of sex that it is necessary and interesting to think of how this old sex adage will continue to be debunked as we collectively broaden our definitions of what sex really is. 

If you have sex to reduce stress before a big game (or rigorous workout), read this.

O.school spoke with Dr. UC, a pelvic health physical therapist, educator, and counselor (you can follow her FB, IG, and Twitter handle @youseelogic) for her expert opinion on the impact of sex before a game or rigorous exercise. What she said may interest those who find having sex reduces stress, especially if sports is a cause of said stress. Dr. UC says, “If the patient performs best [when stress is low] and they find sex to be a significant stress reliever, I say go for it! But if they are needing more of a ‘focused edge’ and sex would distract from that goal, I would tell them not to have sex.” 

But at the end of the day, there just isn’t enough medical data to calcify whether or not sex could negatively impact someone’s performance. Dr. UC adds, “My best recommendation is for the patient/athlete to understand their body and what it needs for optimal performance. Once you know that, your question has been answered.”

If you’re really concerned about the issue, it could be a good idea to talk to a trusted doctor or physical therapist.

We hope in the future, studies continue to advance and become more inclusive. And if this is a myth you’ve heard before, you might want to think twice before buying into it. An athlete’s performance on the field likely has little to do with their performance in the bedroom. The more advanced and thorough sexual education becomes, the less likely these kinds of myths will stick around.

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Jess Tholmer is a Seattle-based reader, sometimes writer, and big fan of the television. Her work has been featured on HelloGiggles, The Date Mix, and her personal twitter where she has insisted on making people read her thoughts for an entire decade. Her social handle is @tholmz

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