I’ve heard that having sex uses up a lot of energy. I’m an athlete and I’m worried that if I have sex the night before a competition it will affect my performance. Does having sex affect athletic performance?
Abstinence before athletic events has been a part of athletic tradition for centuries. There are records of Greeks abstaining from sex before the first Olympic games, and even today some coaches and athletes believe that it is necessary to abstain from sex for days or even weeks before an important competition. It seems that everyone from Muhammad Ali to World Cup soccer players has done it. One of the reasons behind the practice is that people believe that testosterone—lost during the act of sex—is linked to aggression. Losing that testosterone is thought to decrease one’s competitive edge and desire to win. Some also claim that the psychological after-effects of sex can negatively impact athletic performance and that having sex might cause a person to lose focus.
The question is, is there scientific research to support these assumptions or is this practice based on purely anecdotal evidence? There has been a lot of research on the topic over the years, and almost all of the research shows that there is no proof that having sex before athletic competition has a negative impact on athletic performance (“having sex” in this context can be defined as achieving an orgasm). In fact, some research shows that sex may have some benefits for athletes. Instead of draining testosterone, sex actually increases it. There is even some research that shows that sexual stimulation can have a pain-numbing effect in women that helps with muscle aches. Having sex certainly does take some energy, but the energy used up is not a significant enough amount to decrease overall energy or muscle strength. Having sex at night does, however, mean that you are not sleeping as much, and so some coaches might recommend abstaining from sex simply because then their athletes are need to sleep.
Whether or not sex has a psychological effect depends on the person. There has been no conclusive research on the subject. Some people might find sex to be calming or focusing, while others might find it an unnecessary distraction before a competition. Even if there is little scientific research to back up a biological reason to abstain from sex before competition, that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t have an impact. Most athletes have a routine or tradition they perform before a competition, whether it’s eating a particular food, listening to a certain song or avoiding distractions. If you think that abstaining from sex is an important part of preparing for a competition, there’s nothing wrong with that—you should do what you’re comfortable with. If you’re concerned with the potential impact sex might have on your athletic performance, you could try having sex before practice to see how that influences your performance.
The Sexual Health Information Center is a student-run resource center located on the first floor of Main Hall. SHIC offers confidential one-on-one peer education sessions and also sells condoms (more than 20 kinds!), dental dams, lube, pregnancy tests and more for affordable prices.