Should You Have Sex Before A Fight?

April 8, 2021

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 [1].

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 [2].

How low? According to one study, sexual intercourse expends generally only an average of 25 calories [3]. To put this in perspective, 25 calories represent walking up two flights of stairs (maybe depending on what your freaky self is into?)

However, is there any truth to not having sex before a fight? Will sexual activity lead to a decrease in fight performance? Two systematic reviews investigated the current research underpinning the science behind having sex before competition [1,4].

Since originally publishing this article, new research has emerged on the topic which will be updated below.

Sex before a fight
May 17, 1967: Muhammad Ali punches the bag. (Miami News photo)

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 [5]. Similarly, handgrip strength is not affected by sexual activity the night before the grip strength test [6].

A 2018 study found that sexual intercourse performed 12 hours before strength testing showed no difference in knee extension and knee flexion strength compared to abstaining from sex [13]. This was regardless of sexual intercourse lasting less or longer than 30 minutes.

Interestingly, a 2021 study found 5-19 minutes of sexual intercourse (yep, subjects had to time themselves, missionary only, male active only) 24 hours before a squat session consisting of a 5 x 5 set and rep scheme was detrimental to squat strength by 2 kg [14]. While a statistically significant change, this may not be practically significant.

There was also a trend showing the length of sexual intercourse being negatively correlated with weight lifted. Meaning the longer you have sex, the less weight you lift.

This did not reach statistical significance and should be taken with a grain of salt as the average reduction in strength was only 2 kg. Further, the study design already favored the abstaining condition as the order of sexual activity or abstaining was not randomized.

Instead, week one was the sex condition and week two was the abstaining condition. This allows the training effect from week one to carry over to week two.

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 the competition [7]. 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 [8]. 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 [11].

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) [10].

Sex and Psychological Aspects

Sexual activity had no negative effect on the athletes’ mental concentration in high-level male athletes [8]. Further, sexual intercourse 12 hours before strength testing showed no differences in mental or physical fatigue compared to abstaining from sex [13].

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.” [1]

There seems to be a generally 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.

References

  1. Stefani, L., Galanti, G., Padulo, J., Bragazzi, N., Maffulli., Sexual activity before sports competition: A systematic review. Frontiers in Physiology, 2016. Epub.
  2. 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.
  3. Frauman, D., The relationship between physical exercise, sexual activity, and desire for sexual activity. Journal of Sex Research, 1982. 18(1): p. 198-229.
  4. 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.
  5. Johnson, W., Muscular performance following coitus. Journal of Sex Research, 1968. 3: p. 247-248.
  6. McGlone, S., Shrier, I., Does sex the night before competition decrease performance? Editorial. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, 2000. 10(4): p. 233-234.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Dabbs, J., Mohammed, S., Male and female salivary and testosterone concentrations before and after sexual activity. Physiology and Behaviour, 1992. 52: p. 195-197.
  12. Levin, R., Sexual activity, health and well-being – the beneficial roles of coitus and masturbation. Sexual Relationship Therapy, 2007. 22(1): p. 135-148.
  13. Valenti, L. M., Suchil, C., Beltran, G., Rogers, R. C., Massey, E. A., & Astorino, T. A. (2018). Effect of sexual intercourse on lower extremity muscle force in strength-trained men. The journal of sexual medicine15(6), 888-893.
  14. Kirecci, S. L., Albayrak, A. T., Yavuzsan, A. H., Yesildal, C., Ilgi, M., & Kutsal, C. (2021). Sexual intercourse before exercise has a detrimental effect on lower extremity muscle strength in men. Postgraduate Medical Journal.

About the author 

James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international level teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.


Tags

sex, sex and performance, sex before a fight


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