What Exercise Actually Does to Your Sex Drive

The relationship between exercise and sex is complicated.

As the myth goes, having sex before participating in sports can ruin athletic performance, but that's been disproved many times over.

Now a new study posits the inverse: athletic activity might inhibit sexual performance.

Published this July in the journal Medicine & Science In Sports and Exercise, the study examined endurance exercises as they relate to male sex drive by surveying men on “physical characteristics, exercise training habits, and libido.”

The results? Men who regularly participate in high intensity endurance training had lower libidos. Men who worked out for shorter periods or at mid-range intensity had a better chance of having normal or high libidos.

These findings are the product of decades of work on the relationship between sex and exercise.

Dr. A.C. Hackney, professor of exercise physiology and nutrition at the University Of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, led the study and has been investigating the area of male reproduction and exercise for over thirty years.

He similarly found that men who chronically exercise can be identified to have a lower testosterone state, a state called Exercise Hypogonadal Male Condition. Hackney’s most recent study is the first to address male libido in a quantifiable manner.

“Think about this from a species evolutionary point of view,” Hackney shares with ATTN:. “Humans have sex in order to conceive offspring...If a large amount of those energy reserves are going for physical activity (exercise), then the body signals a shutting down of reproductive function.”

To understand why intense exercise can decrease libido, know that sex and physical activity have similar functions for the body outside of reproduction.

Dr. Beth Taylor, professor kinesiology at University Of Connecticut and director of exercise physiology research at Hartford Hospital, sees this relationship quite simply.

“An acute bout of exercise and sex are both highly stimulating,” Taylor tells ATTN:. “After a bout of acute exercise [or] sex, the body then ‘recovers’ such that major cardiovascular parameters like blood pressure and heart rate are typically lower. Consequently, the two are actually somewhat similar in terms of cardiometabolic demands.”

As far as libido, Taylor sees Hackney’s observed phenomena as a diversion of energy: “While moderate exercise seems to preserve and even improve sexual function, higher levels of exercise may shift the body into preservation rather than reproduction mode due to increased inflammation or decreased availability of calories.”

“This makes sense,” Taylor says, “since evolutionarily, in times of starvation, the human body should not favor reproduction!”

Yet, this phenomena is complicated by myriad factors that relate to exercise and sex like physical health and gender.

A quick search on the subject will reveal a variety of findings: the preliminary findings of a study from 2010 found that exercise in men boosted sex drive. Moreover, exercise can be seen as a libido booster as it increases one’s self-esteem.

But this is not a simple subject, complicated by situations that extend beyond the average.

“Most studies show that exercise is extremely beneficial for people who have low sex drive and decreased libido due to medical/age issues,” Taylor says. “For example, in patients with cancer who are receiving hormone-suppression/altering therapy, in women with PCOS, in adults on antidepressants, and in older women undergoing menopause, moderate exercise is associated with increased sexual quality of life, arousal, and pleasure.”

“So clearly, if there is a deficit in in sexual function, it seems that exercise, regardless of gender, has a positive and restorative approach,” Taylor continues. Taylor also notes that when sexual dysfunctions are absent younger women tend to have varied sex drives as a result of menstrual cycles and contraceptive hormones.

For those concerned that exercise might stifle eroticism, the answer is simple: adjust your workout given your sexual situation.

Both Hackney and Taylor agree that the solution for this is to mind your body — and to think about this problem logically.

“If a couple is having difficulty in conceiving and having a child,” Hackney says. “Their fertility specialist should make certain to talk to the male about how much exercise they are doing and what their sex drive is like.”

Taylor suggests low-moderate intensity workouts as an answer, activities that range from 30 to 60 minutes a day. “This becomes even more important in athletes for whom overall health may be compromised by chronic diseases or aging,” Taylor adds. “For athletes who are training hard and pursuing performance goals...keeping a diary of sexual function could also help an athlete monitor long-term effects of training and adjust training accordingly.”

H/T The Independent