Contrary to popular belief, sex before athletics doesn’t hurt performance. Athletic folklore abounds with tales of coaches forbidding sex the night before big games. The prohibition is largely based on the belief that sex is so strenuous that it saps energy athletes should save for competitions.
However, many world-class athletes have done the deed the night —or even a few hours before—major contests and have emerged victorious. Olympic long jumper Bob Beamon typically abstained the night before, but broke his rule the evening before his event in the 1968 Olympics. He set a world record. Basketball great Wilt Chamberlain said he had his 100-point game a few hours after sex. And Minnesota Vikings coaches insisted on separating players from their wives and girlfriends the night before the team’s four Super Bowl appearances. Their record: 0-4.
Not the Sex, the Carousing
Surprisingly few studies have explored this issue. One recent report comes from investigators at Cal State San Marcos. They tested a dozen male college athletes’ leg strength shortly before and 12 hours after they had intercourse with their regular partners. Their legs lost no strength. The researchers concluded: “Sexual intercourse the night before exercise is not detrimental to muscular strength in active men.”
You may recall the scene from the 2003 movie, Something’s Gotta Give with Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, and Keanu Reeves. Nicholson plays a 60-something record mogul who has the hots for Keaton. Then he has a heart attack. He asks his doctor, Reeves, when he can return to sex. Reeves replies, “When you can walk up two flights of stairs without feeling winded or experiencing chest pain.” Hollywood movies are rarely sources of reliable sex and health information, but in this case, Reeves’ advice is correct. Sex and orgasm are no more physically taxing than walking up two flights of stairs, and post-orgasm lassitude lasts only a few minutes.
Coaches don’t forbid stair climbing before big games, so how did the prohibition against sex originate? It began in ancient Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics in 776 B.C. To the Greeks, Olympic competitions were not just about winning. They were also religious festivals dedicated to their chief god, Zeus, and founded by his son, the amazing athlete, Hercules. Religiously, the original Olympics represented a path to spiritual purity, which the Greeks believed required sexual abstinence.
While many coaches have railed against sex the night before big games, others have not. During the 1950s, New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel said, “It’s not the sex that hurts athletic performance. It’s athletes staying up all night drinking and chasing women.” Before contests, athletes need rest—and ironically, sex can help. Former champion triathlete Bob Arnot, M.D., always made a point of making love with his wife the night before triathlons. It said it helped him sleep and feel refreshed the next morning.
However, some people, especially many women, find that sex keeps them awake and leaves them sleep-deprived, which hurts performance. For this reason, Canadian ski racer Kerrin Lee-Gartner abstained from sex with her husband the night before the 1992 Olympics. But they made love the morning of her afternoon race. She won a gold medal. If sex, including masturbation, helps you sleep, go ahead, do it the night before. But if sex, solo or partnered, keeps you awake, consider postponing it.
Sexual Desire and Function Improve with Regular, Moderate Exercise
Meanwhile, a great deal of research shows that exercise boosts libido and usually increases sexual frequency.
- Massachusetts researchers asked 1,709 men over 40 about their lifestyle and sexual satisfaction. Those who exercised the most reported the best sex and fewest sex problems.
- University of California, San Diego, investigators surveyed the sex lives of 78 sedentary men, average age 48. Then the men took brisk, hour-long walks four days a week. After nine months, their fitness improved significantly—and so did their sex lives: more libido, easier and greater arousal, increased sexual frequency, more intense orgasms, and greater sexual satisfaction.
- Singapore scientists enrolled ninety obese men, average age 44 in exercise programs of either low or moderate intensity. Six months later, both groups reported better sex, but the moderate-intensity group showed greater improvement.
- Even non-strenuous exercise improves sex, for example, mellow, meditative yoga. Korean researchers recruited 41 women, age 30 to 60, who had high cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and triglycerides (blood fats). Twenty participated in gentle, hour-long yoga classes twice a week. The rest did not. Twelve weeks later, the yoga group showed lower cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure—and reported greater sexual desire and arousal, more vaginal lubrication, more sex, and improved sexual satisfaction. University of British Columbia investigators reviewed a dozen studies of yoga’s impact and declared the ancient discipline “enhances sexuality.”
But only moderate exercise enhances sexuality. Ultra-strenuous sports depress libido. The University of North Carolina researchers surveyed exercise habits and libido among 1,077 adult male athletes. Regular moderate exercise produced peak sexual desire. But ultra-strenuous workouts—marathons, swimming the English Channel, etc.—are so fatiguing that they depress libido and impair sexual function.