Does Sex Really Kill an Athlete's Competitive Edge?
Just about every time the Olympics or the World Cup roll around, everyone starts talking about sex. Weirdly enough, it’s not just because Olivier Giroud is so hot. It’s because apparently someone, somewhere, in another age, in another time, on another planet, in a tree, said that sex before a big sporting match was, “no good.” For most of us, sex is the major athletic competition of our lives. But for those who have to be at the top of their game consistently, it has traditionally been deemed a distraction and a hindrance.
Traditions are great when they involve excessive turkey and fat men in red suits, but they are uncool when they exclude sex. Still, with so much hype around the subject, the question has to be asked: if you had sex with Olivier Giroud before a big match (a totally realistic situation), would it affect his performance? To find out the answer, we talked to psychologists, looked at medical studies, and researched how the mental and physical sides of sexual activity affects both male and female athletes. Here’s what we found.
From a medical perspective:
Medical concerns about sex have less to do with male athletes breaking an ankle during an embarrassing sex swing accident and more to do with testosterone. It was once thought that sex weakened the male by causing him to lose testosterone, and therefore his masculine vitality and strength.
However, a Chinese study conducted in 2003 shows very little connection between testosterone levels and a man’s regular sexual activity. The study tested the testosterone levels of 28 men who abstained from sexual intercourse for different lengths of time. They found that a week of abstinence produced little to no fluctuations in testosterone levels. And on the seventh day, there was a great flood... sorry, a peak in testosterone levels, and then they went back to normal.
Which means that an athlete who ejaculated exactly seven days prior to competition would have just a little more testosterone than an opponent who is, presumably, not so regimented. However, waiting to have sex for any more than a week would offer no boost of testosterone to the athlete; his nights would just be lonelier.
But wait, there is some connection between a healthier male body and having sex on a regular basis. For instance, studies show that those who ejaculate more may be at less of a risk for prostate cancer, the reason being that ejaculation reportedly clears out prostate glands. And, well, anything that can keep an athlete healthy is obviously beneficial.
Just like in men, there is not much out there to show that sex would be physically harmful to a female athlete. Instead, there have been suggestions that sex may BENEFIT the female athlete. According to a study done on women who brought themselves to orgasm (for science), orgasm is connected with a small increase in testosterone concentrations and a very strong increase in prolactin. The latter helps regulate metabolism and the immune system. All good things.
And... in general
As far as sex “weakening the legs," well, if you can handle running up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum in a thick sweatsuit and have no problem slugging slabs of meat in training, no woman is going to weaken your legs. Studies have shown that all athletes can absolutely physically handle sex the night before. The only detrimental factor could be the rise in heart rate that sexual activity produces. Otherwise known as when your heart is "all-a-flutter." But, this shouldn't affect athletic performance unless you are sneaking a quickie literally right before you walk on the field.
From a psychological perspective:
Psychologically, the differences between male and female athletes is not striking. One of the major psychological issues associated with doing intercourse before a match is that sex can be a very emotional experience. And women have been shown to have a more active brain response to negative emotional stimuli. So it's a bit of a reach, but one might argue that if a female athlete had a negative sexual experience prior to competing, she may not have her head straight for the big game. Otherwise, studies have shown that everyone’s brain reacts the same during orgasm, male or female, athlete or no athlete, and unless your sexual experience is emotionally scarring, none of this orgasmic brain activity is going to affect athletic performance.
We spoke to Dr. Ian Kerner, a leading sex therapist, about the issue, and he reinforced that the connection between sex and an athlete’s performance can't be generalized. It's about the individual athlete and the kind of sex the athlete is having. “If having sex means drinking or doing drugs and staying up all night, then having sex before the big game is not the thing to be doing,” he says. However, he also pointed out that loving sex can lead to relaxation and increased self-esteem. All elements that would play a positive role on game day.
Dr. Justin Lehmiller, social psychologist and author of the blog Sex and Psychology, brought up one interesting point that complicates the issue. Superstition can play a major role in performance (sports, we presume, but maybe sex too). “The end result is likely that if you do what you think will work, you will probably find that it works,” says Lehmiller. If an athlete has been raised on the false belief that sex will harm his performance, it probably will.
The only affect sexual activity definitely has on an athlete is the placebo effect. So, if you're a weekend warrior thinking of changing your bedroom rituals before Saturday's big Rocky Hill's Mini Tri, follow these last words from Dr. Kerner, “Go home to your loved one and have some good, connected love-making. Feel like a god, and come out ready to kill.”
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