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August 10, 2012

Sex, The Olympics, And Athletic Performance

athletic performanceWith the London Olympics coming to a close one of the big story lines has been the dispensing of 150,000 condoms to 10,500 Olympic athletes. That averages to 15 condoms per athlete, or about one condom per athlete per day of the Olympics. If all those condoms were used it makes you wonder how athletes found time to actually train for, focus on, and compete in their events.

Traditionally, it’s been taboo for athletes to engage in sex the night before competition. But, does sex before competition really affect performance? Apparently the organizing committee for the London Olympics don’t think it does.

Sex and Athletic Performance

Many factors affect athletic performance. Experts are split on the answer to the question and role of sex and athletic performance. One theory behind abstaining from sex before competition is that it leads to sexual frustration, which then increases aggression leading to better athletic performance (a hungry dog runs the fastest analogy). Scientific evidence, however, does not support this theory.

What the medical evidence does show is that having sex the night before competition has no effect on performance based on physiologic tests.  One problem with some of these studies is the physiologic tests that were chosen may have little to do with the skill set needed in competition.

For example, one study looked at grip strength the morning after sex and compared it to grip strength after at least 6 days of no sex and found no difference.  That’s valid for someone whose sport requires grip strength, but may have little meaning for a basketball player.

But, other studies have looked at more meaningful physiologic parameters. One study did look at several physiological tests including grip strength, reaction time, balance, side-to-side movement, and VO2max and found no difference between having sex or not.  Another study found that sex 12 hours before competition had no effect on aerobic power, heart rate, or blood pressure.

Certainly the timing and duration of sex before competition could be a big factor.  If having sex takes away from a good’s night sleep it’s likely to interfere with athletic performance.

Most likely the effects of sex on athletic performance depend on the individual athlete. Some may find it as a way to relax the night before an event, while others may find sex before athletic competition distracting for a variety of reasons.

One thing for sure. Athletes may be the most superstitious individuals around with many having their own little “rituals” before and/or during competition (baseball hitter adjusting his batting gloves, tapping his helmet, grabbing his crotch, and taking the same number of practice swings before each pitch).

If an athlete had a poor performance on an occasion after having sex the night before, it’s a pretty good bet they he/she will avoid sex before competition in the future, and vice versa. I prefer being in the vice versa group.

The bottom line is this for those of you still compete athletically. There’s no solid evidence that sex the night before competition affects athletic performance. So it’s really up to you.

Parting thought.  If sex were an Olympic sport, my hunch is many would pick the French or Italians to win the gold medal. But, I would put my money on the  Slovaks.

See related articles.

“Oxytocin: The Love Hormone”

“Good Blood Flow Means Better Sex”

“Just Say Yes To Sex (and Reap Its Health Benefits”


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Dr. Joe Jacko

Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio at Grandview Primary Care. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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