It’s an old belief. A long-standing myth as you will. Sex before a fight will be detrimental to your performance as abstaining from sex will increase aggression, testosterone and muscle strength . Even Muhammad Ali reportedly wouldn’t have sex within six weeks of a fight. Furthermore, it has been lead to believe that sex increases excess energy expenditure resulting in decreased athletic performance the following day even though energy expenditure of sexual activity remains low . How low? According to one study, sexual intercourse expends generally only an average of 25 calories . To put this in perspective, 25 calories represents walking up two flights of stairs (maybe depending what your freaky self is in to?) However, is there any truth to not having sex before a fight? Will sexual activity lead to a decrease in fight performance? Two recent systematic reviews investigated the current research underpinning the science behind having sex before competition [1,4].
Study Inclusion Criteria
The papers selected for these reviews had strict criteria. The subjects had to be competitive athletes where an intervention of sexual activity before a competition had to be performed where the outcome included the impact of sexual activity on performance. Furthermore, studies comparing athletes reporting having sexual activity versus athletes not having sexual intercourse before a competition were also included in this review. Of the many studies found through the authors’ keyword search, less than ten studies matched the inclusion criteria and were included in the reviews.
Sex and Muscle Strength
Sexual intercourse has no influence on muscle strength . Similarly, handgrip strength is not affected by sexual activity the night before the grip strength test .
Sex and Aerobic Performance
Sexual intercourse does not negatively impact aerobic performance on the maximal treadmill test when it takes place at least 10 hours before competition . However, this study used a sedentary population. A study in high-level male athletes found data to support the potential beneficial effect of sexual activity on cycle erg performance . However, a potentially negative effect occurs if there is an interval of less than 2 hours between sexual intercourse and cycle erg performance due to higher post-test heart rate values.
Sex and Testosterone
Two studies reported sexual activity does not affect testosterone levels in the short or long term [9, 10]. Contrary to this, testosterone levels increased across the evenings when couples engaged in sexual intercourse and decreased when they did not .
Sex and Sporting Performance
There is no evidence of direct negative impact of sexual intercourse on sports performance [6, 12].
Sexual activity has also been found to have no effect on physiological (heart rate, blood pressure), sport-specific (all-out test, upper and lower limb strength, reaction time, hamstring flexibility), and biochemical variables (testosterone, cortisol) .
Sex and Psychological Aspects
Sexual activity had no negative effect on the athletes’ mental concentration in high-level male athletes .
Should You Have Sex Before A Fight?
From these reviews, it is suggested that there are no negative effects of sexual activity before a fight. However, sexual activity should ideally occur at least 10 hours before a fight and not within 2 hours as it may have a negative effect on recovery. If there is one thing to take away from this article it is this: “Sexual activity has a relaxing effect, and the frustration to limit one’s own sexual desire is probably more detrimental than to actually engage in sexual activity.”  There seems to be a general positive impact of sexual activity before a fight due to the relaxing effect. According to the authors of these reviews, this may help relieve competition or pre-fight stress in combat sports. Furthermore, the current literature does not support the belief that you should abstain from sexual activity before a fight. Turns out Ronda Rousey was right.
- Stefani, L., Galanti, G., Padulo, J., Bragazzi, N., Maffulli., Sexual activity before sports competition: A systematic review. Frontiers in Physiology, 2016. Epub.
- Ferraz, L., Costa, P., Sexo na noite anterior a competiciao influentia o rendimiento do atleta? Mitos o realidade. Rev Medicina Desportiva Informa, 1997. 5(4): p. 21-22.
- Frauman, D., The relationship between physical exercise, sexual activity, and desire for sexual activity. Journal of Sex Research, 1982. 18(1): p. 198-229.
- Soori, M., Mohaghegh, S, Hajian, M, Abedi Yekta, A., Sexual Activity before Competition and Athletic Performance: A Systematic Review. Annals of Applied Sport Science, 2017. 5(3): p. 5-12.
- Johnson, W., Muscular performance following coitus. Journal of Sex Research, 1968. 3: p. 247-248.
- McGlone, S., Shrier, I., Does sex the night before competition decrease performance? Editorial. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, 2000. 10(4): p. 233-234.
- Boone, T., Gilmore, S., Effects of sexual intercourse on maximal aerobic power, oxygen pulse, and double product in male sedentary subjects. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 1995. 35(3): p. 214-217.
- Sztajzel, J., Periat, M., Marti, V., Krall, P., Rutishauser, W., Effect of sexual activity on cycle ergometer stress test parameters, on plasmatic testosterone levels and on concentration capacity. A study in high-level male athletes performed in the laboratory. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 2000. 40(3): p. 233-239.
- Hengevoss, J., Piechotta, M., Muller, D., Hanft, F., Parr, M., Schanzer, W., Combined effects of adrogen anabolic steroids and physical activity on the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. Steroid and Biochemical Molecular Biology, 2015. 19(150): p. 86-96.
- Vouyoukas, E., The influence of sexual activity on athletic performance., in Doctoral Thesis, Degree of Master Applied Science (Exercise Science). 2011, Concordia University-Montreal (Quebec): Canada.
- Dabbs, J., Mohammed, S., Male and female salivary and testosterone concentrations before and after sexual activity. Physiology and Behaviour, 1992. 52: p. 195-197.
- Levin, R., Sexual activity, health and well-being – the beneficial roles of coitus and masturbation. Sexual Relationship Therapy, 2007. 22(1): p. 135-148.