Chasing 42

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Sex and Running: Endurance Activities Collide

“Sex makes you happy. Happy people do not run a 3:47 mile.” – American Running Legend Marty Liquori

The debate is as old as the Olympics themselves. What impact does sex have on athletic performance? The supposed answers are about as contradictory as any debate out there, which is in part why the subject is just so darn interesting. Plato urged athletes to abstain before competition as early as 444 BC, whereas Pliny the Elder famously proclaimed in 77 AD that “athletes when sluggish are revitalized by lovemaking”. Mohamed Ali would famously abstain from sex in the weeks leading up to a fight, whereas Ronaldo has claimed that sex before a match makes him better. I won’t even bother talking about the supposed sexual exploits of the likes of Joe Namath and Wilt Chamberlain. The opposing strategies seem to both end up working pretty well, but these stories leave us no closer to answering the question.

For years, coaches in all sports have urged their athletes to abstain from sex before competition. If you’ve ever been on an organized team, you’ve no doubt heard the recommendation (or mandate), and perhaps even broken it! It turns out that this bedroom tapering isn’t quite so cut and dry. In truth, this discussion is part psychological and part physiological. Luckily for us, there are always intrepid researchers out there exploring these burning questions (pun intended!).

Physiological Considerations

The endurance-related effects of sex on men and women are quite fascinating. Generally, research has found that having sex the night before a race has no noticeable impact on fitness measures, such as VO2 max, heart rate, or oxygen pulse. A study of 2,000 London marathoners found that those who “stretched” more vigorously the night before the race performed better than those that abstained. Additional research has uncovered increases in longevity, increased levels of immunoglobulin A (essential for the immune system), and decreases in heart-disease.

In women, researchers have discovered that two of the areas of the brain that are active during orgasm are the anterior cingulate cortex and the insula, both of which are associated with pain. This may suggest an analgesic effect. Perhaps the take-away message here is that the best recovery technique is a good orgasm. I’ll leave the method up to you, but will add that only 1/3 of women are capable of orgasm via penile-vaginal penetration. Other than that, I’ll refrain from pointing you in the right direction. In men, the impact on maximum workload has been shown to be minimal.  There has also been plenty of discussion about testosterone as a performance-enhancing drug. Just ask Floyd Landis. Researchers have found significant increases in testosterone levels following sexual intercourse. Interestingly enough, the study also found increases in testosterone resulting from watching others engage in sexual intercourse. Did I mention that the researchers collected their data at a swingers club in Las Vegas? I can only imagine how that IRB meeting went down!

Psychological Considerations

Running is clearly a mental game, as we all know. Mental training is sometimes the hardest aspect of endurance sports to master. For years, much of the conversation around abstaining from sex related to the perceived distraction it may cause for the athlete. The other “bonus” associated with abstaining prior to competition was added frustration and aggression, which could be released during the event. However, research has shown no impact on mental concentration. The same study also showed a decrease in attention two hours after sex, however, so plan accordingly! Other researchers have found limited self-reported negative impact among long distance runners who engaged in sexual activity prior to an event. Ultimately, everyone’s brain responds to sex differently but it only really has the potential to have a negative psychological impact on your performance if doing so is out of the ordinary, and stresses you out in some way. These are decisions I’ll leave up to you.

You may have noticed that I left out perhaps the most glaring physical concern- fatigue. Well, I hate to break it to everyone (ok, mainly men), but this isn’t really something to be worried about. The average sexual encounter lasts about 5 minutes, and burns about 50 calories.  A 2013 study did, however, indicate that sex may burn as many calories as 30 minutes on the treadmill, so don’t abandon hope just yet. Not surprisingly, 98% of those studied also felt that sex was more pleasant than their time on the treadmill. I’m shocked!

 

You Don’t Want to Peak Too Soon: Sex & Running

I spend a lot of time thinking about and talking about sex. My friends joke about how easily I engage in sex-related conversation topics and they may be just a little bit jealous. Now, before you starting jumping to conclusions or closing your web browser before your significant other, your roommate, or your children walk into the room, I should tell you that sex and sexuality are my areas of academic study. Through my research in education and Women’s Studies, I examine the role of sexuality education in schools, as well as the social construction of sexuality in general. Thus, it was rather inevitable that I spend a bit of time thinking about the intersection of sex and running, right? Heck, even if it wasn’t a part of my job, I spend quite a bit of time running, and we’ve all had interesting conversations with ourselves or with friends while out on a run!

Not surprisingly, there is a fair amount of information out there talking about sex and running in the same sentence…I know you’re shocked that “sex” is a significant topic on the internet, right? Interestingly, the same debate I spend a great deal of time deconstructing professionally, that of abstinence-only sexuality education vs. comprehensive sexuality education, seems to play itself out in the running world as well.

There are studies that talk about abstaining from sex before a race (or other form of significant physical exertion), both as a ritual and as an act of preserving energy. There are also studies that talk about the benefits of sex for running and the benefits of running for sex. I was especially taken by the http://www.canada.com article entitled “Running Can Make You A Sex God” 🙂  I could go on about how the comfortableness around sex implied in a title like that is a direct result of socialized medicine and an educational system with a much more comprehensive approach to sexuality education, but I’ll save that argument for another time.

Photo Credit: Running Times

The various competing rumors about how many calories sex (and related activities) burns should also be mentioned. As a general rule, runners are more physically fit and care more about their health and diet. Thus, the combination of pleasure and calorie-burning happens during running and sex!

In addition, running (and exercise in general) tends to help prevent impotence in men, and runners tend to be more fit and have a better self image and are thus more eager to have sex. Regardless of the science, the overall psychological effects also seem to indicate that a healthy sex life and a healthy running program can go hand-in-hand quite nicely (forgive the pun!).

So, if you are apprehensive about a healthy orgasm before you toe the line, just remember how much you care about your health- it really is for the best!

Photo Credit: Running Times

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