Skip to content

Sex, training and athletic performance How does your naked time affect your training sessions?

Sex, Training und sportliche Leistungsfähigkeit Wie beeinflusst Deine Nacktzeit Deine Trainingseinheiten?

Here is a brief summary:

  1. Many people believe that sex reduces performance in the gym and other sports. Fortunately, this is an oversimplification of the actual facts.
  2. Having sex while you work out could boost your performance.
  3. Women could benefit from pre- and post-workout orgasms.
  4. Alongside good nutrition, sex is one of the best aids to recovery
  5. Sex with cuddling afterwards has more benefits than a "solo act"

Is sex killing your gains?

In my younger days, I had a few guiding principles - short quotes or sayings that kept me focused in my pursuit of muscle and strength.

They may sound a little embarrassing, but if you consider that I spent the hours before workouts watching scenes from Conan the Barbarian and Dune - the Desert Planet on VHS tapes, you'll understand them better.

Here are a few of them:

"Steel is strong. Flesh is stronger." -Thulsa Doom from Conan

"Fear kills the spirit." - Paul Atreides from Dune

"Sex is for lovers, not strength athletes." - A crazy exerciser from my gym

I can live with the first two. It's the last saying that bothers me the most. I wish I could travel back through time to my 20-year-old self to smack him with a dumbbell and then beat up the guy who told me that.

Sex and performance

There's a long history of ancestral training knowledge that warns against sex. The whole thing goes along the lines of "don't have sex during the night before the big game because it will make you weak."

So you can probably see where Mr. Stupid got his idea about sex and muscle gains. The problem, however, is that not only does this take all the fun out of life, but it also goes against intuition in many ways.

There is a delicate balance between training and recovery. You train to stimulate the body. You break down tissue, you release hormones, you stimulate and stress the body and force it to adapt.

The body adapts by releasing anabolic hormones to counteract the catabolic nature of the stress hormones. This is the reason we consume our protein after a workout, spend time in the sauna, treat ourselves to a massage and make sure to get good sleep.

Now guess what else puts the body in a parasympathetic relaxed state, quickly suppresses stress hormones and floods the body with healing hormones like oxytocin? Yes, that's right, an orgasm.

The science of the big "O"

Here's an explanation of how an orgasm works in the context of sex. There is the arousal phase during which desire builds. This encompasses everything that comes about before physical contact and what we call eroticizing.

This anticipation phase seems to be associated with both a strong release of certain stress hormones (catecholamines and cortisol) and an activation of the dopamine circuit in the brain. This phase also appears to increase testosterone levels in some studies.

The research in this area is far from clear and conclusive and there appears to be individual variation. For example, some women showed a reduced cortisol response during this arousal phase, while others showed a stronger stress response or no stress response at all.

When things escalate towards sexual activity, most of the changes we see are changes in the brain. One notable hormone whose levels rise with physical contact is oxytocin, which has many positive effects. It is most involved in feelings of bonding and attachment and correlates with lower levels of stress hormones.

Once orgasm arrives, this is met with many changes in the brain and two very notable hormonal responses. Oxytocin levels quickly reach their maximum level and also drop quickly after orgasm if no physical contact (e.g. cuddling) is maintained.

The other hormone that is released is prolactin. If there is one hormone that can be considered the hormone of orgasm, it is prolactin. In both men and women, prolactin levels rise rapidly after orgasm. The extent and duration of the increase is greater in men, which means that men release a greater amount of prolactin and that their prolactin levels remain elevated for longer.

The current consensus is that prolactin is responsible for the non-stimulatory phase that follows orgasm. This desensitized phase includes a loss of erection, reduced desire for sex and, most famously, drowsiness.

Is sex the best pre-workout formula for women?

Women seem to suffer much less from this insensitive phase, which may also be responsible for the fact that some women can have multiple consecutive orgasms. When they do experience this insensitivity, it doesn't last as long. All of this is regulated by prolactin.

There are also several other changes after orgasm. Studies conducted with women using imaging techniques (fMRI) have shown that the brain undergoes a number of fascinating changes after orgasm. These include increased activity in areas associated with relaxation, touch, reward, memory and pain sensation.

Clearly, orgasm in women is a fairly reliable tool for reducing sensitivity to pain. This effect can last for hours after orgasm. Along with this effect comes reduced anxiety and less activity in the parts of the brain associated with anxiety and what scientists describe as a trance-like state.

While I don't have a double-blind study to cite at this point, I would love to see a study that examines whether these changes in the brain will result in increased best performance when training with weights in women.

Less fear, less anxiety, better trance-like focus and higher pain tolerance? Sounds like the optimal mental state. Could orgasm improve athletic performance in women? There's no research on this topic yet, but it sounds very likely to me at least.

Sorry guys, but there are no similar studies on the male brain during orgasm. However, it looks like a reduction in fear, anxiety and pain reduction are specifically female.

What about a "solo act"?

There are differences between masturbation and sex. Masturbation is a solo endeavor and therefore we would expect less of the cuddling hormone oxytocin to be released. This is indeed the case. Masturbation is also generally not as stimulating and satisfying as real sex, so we would expect prolactin release to be lower. And this is also the case.

Can I have too many orgasms?

What about the frequency of orgasms? Are there any potential disadvantages here in terms of health and fitness?

There are two areas of potential concern here. One is the use of erotic stimuli. These appear to reliably increase testosterone levels in men. In fact, visual erotic stimuli before exercise can increase strength and performance.

In one study, experienced exercisers watched a 4-minute long sad, funny, aggressive, motivational or erotic video clip. Their hormone levels were measured before, during and 15 minutes after the video. After the video, they performed a heavy squat workout where they worked their way up to their 3RM weight.

The erotic movie produced a testosterone response and strength gains similar to the responses to the aggressive movie, but without an increase in cortisol levels.

The other observation has to do with abstinence. Even though erotic stimuli and anticipation of sex can increase testosterone levels, it looks like testosterone levels drop again after orgasm. This would not be a surprise as high prolactin levels are known to suppress testosterone secretion.

When I worked in primary care, one cause to rule out in men with low testosterone levels was a prolactinoma (i.e., a prolactin-secreting tumor). The scientific literature is inconclusive in this area. Some information suggests that short prolactin spikes, such as those that occur after orgasm, may have a positive effect on the cell receptors associated with testosterone production.


A small study conducted with men showed that abstinence from orgasms increased resting testosterone levels and enhanced the increase in testosterone levels from sexual anticipation. This study also showed that testosterone levels did not drop during the days following orgasm, and showed that testosterone levels increased when another orgasm was delayed for seven days.

Other studies show mixed results in this area, with some showing that increased sexual activity with orgasms increased testosterone levels, while others showed that testosterone levels decreased or remained unchanged.

This is often the case with hormone levels. They are highly variable from person to person and are sensitive to many external factors related to the timing and design of the study (e.g. if scientists are watching from another room, then this can easily increase stress hormones and decrease testosterone levels).

These types of influencing factors are often difficult to eliminate.

Sex and athletic performance

I've made a few theoretical predictions so far based on the changes in the female brain during an orgasm, but is there any scientific data showing that sex enhances or hinders exercise performance?

The October 2000 issue of the Clinical Journal Of Sports Medicine summarizes the research in this area better than more recent studies.

Basically, this review and other studies show that there are no reductions in performance associated with sex. However, most of the studies looked at sex 8 to 12 hours before a sporting event.

These studies also did not control for the vigor of sexual activity and they also tend to ignore the "inverse U" hypothesis of sports psychology. Clearly, a 2-hour sex session with multiple orgasms the morning before an important game could very well be a problem.

The inverse U hypothesis suggests that there is an optimal state of relaxation, alertness, focus and anxiety in relation to performance. And as you can imagine, this is again a very individual matter.

An athlete who is excited and overly concerned about the big game might indeed benefit from the clarity and relaxation that an orgasm can provide. On the other hand, this athlete should probably avoid erotic stimulation without an accompanying orgasm.

Unfortunately, there are no studies that allow us to investigate these speculations.

However, a little experimentation of our own would probably be a pleasurable endeavor for most people.

Rest and regeneration

We know with near certainty that sex supports rest and regeneration. An orgasm is one of the most relaxing activities there is. We don't need science to tell us how satisfying such an experience can be, but fortunately science supports our intuition.

The changes in the brain after an orgasm are very relaxing. Dopamine levels drop and serotonin levels rise. This is the hallmark of a satisfied and relaxed physiology. We can expect fewer cravings, better psychological well-being, less mental worry and a better focus on the present moment.

Hormonal activity also supports rest and relaxation. Levels of stress hormones including cortisol are generally lower in this situation (the cortisol response can be variable, which is especially true for women). Oxytocin levels are elevated and can be kept high with plenty of cuddling after sex. This gives us a feeling of support, suppresses cravings and helps us to achieve a general sense of well-being.

Prolactin has the greatest influence and this influence is far more pronounced in men. This is probably the factor involved in the ability to fall asleep more easily after an orgasm and the reason why men suffer more from this stereotypical behavior than women. As mentioned earlier, some research suggests that this transient prolactin surge has a positive effect on testosterone levels, which is not the case with chronically high prolactin levels.

All of this makes sexual activity an ideal recovery method for those who put their bodies under increased training stress.

A short summary

These types of articles are the most difficult to write as the scientific evidence is far from clear. I have tried to focus exclusively on human studies. Unfortunately, there are very few randomized controlled trials in this area. The studies that do exist often have inherent problems associated with the fact that a very sensitive topic is being studied under laboratory conditions.

What you will find in this article are my interpretations and extrapolations based on what is available in the scientific literature on the subject. Here are some possible conclusions that you can use in your training:

  1. Sex is extremely relaxing and restorative. Enjoying a good orgasm after a strenuous training session could aid your recovery between workouts.
  2. Guys, don't turn to the other side straight after sex. Cuddle up. This could lower your cortisol levels and aid your recovery. Plus, your partner will love it
  3. Girls, there is some evidence that you could benefit from orgasms before and after exercise. The changes that an orgasm brings with exercise could help you get more out of your training session. The hormonal effects after exercise could also aid your recovery.
  4. Men could experiment with erotic stimuli without sex before training. This could lead to strength gains and an increased release of testosterone.
  5. Guys, good sex after training could be a superior recovery strategy. A good orgasm will lower cortisol levels and help you relax.
  6. Although there is no conclusive evidence that sex affects athletic performance, it probably depends on many factors. Experiment with different strategies that optimize your mental state, but don't gnaw away at your physical resources.
  7. There is some evidence that abstaining from sex for 5 to 7 days in men could increase testosterone levels and boost performance. Training hard during the week and saving the fun for the weekend might make sense.

One thing we know for sure is that healthy and fit people have better sex lives and are less likely to suffer from sexual dysfunction. And they also look better during actual sex.


  1. Abstinence increases testosterone levels: Pubmed 11760788
  2. Female masturbation increases pain tolerance: Pubmed 22375640
  3. Brain changes with orgasm: The work of Barry Kamisurak. Rutgers University.
  4. Orgasm similar to heroin rush: The Journal of Neuroscience
  5. Endocrine changes to masturbation and abstinence: Pubmed 11760788
  6. Prolactin & testosterone? Pubmed 12087074
  7. Erotic films: Pubmed 21983238
  8. Sex and performance: Pubmed 11086746


By Dr. Jade Teta

Previous article The definitive guide to preventing muscle loss