Sex is no longer believed to affect athletic performance. LIANNE VIAU/CC FLICKR

The longstanding myth that having sex before a big game or a competition could negatively affect performance has been passed around by coaches and players alike. But it is questionable whether there is any truth to this belief. A recent study by Laura Stefani and her colleagues at the School of Sports Medicine in Florence sheds some light on the subject.

The belief may have originated in ancient Greek and Roman times. At the time, the physicians’ recommended method of ensuring peak athletic performance was to find the perfect communion between the body and the spirit, which was thought to be obtained through sacrifice.

Refraining from sex was considered a sacrifice, and the increased sexual frustration was thought to increase aggression and cause an athlete to perform better on the field. Aretaeus of Cappadocia, a first century physician, wrote: “A man’s strength could be enhanced by retention of semen.”

The belief in refraining from sex before sport is far from universal. Some great athletes argue that sex before a competition is a good thing. The former UFC Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey was quoted in an interview saying that sex for women “raises testosterone,” which allows for greater performance during a fight.

Bringing science into the ring, Stefani reviewed nine different sports medicine papers to reveal that there was an overall positive impact to having sex the night before a competition. In marathon running, it was observed to relieve competition stress, and in archery, it was shown to help improve concentration.

Contrary to Rousey’s comment, both men and women have increased testosterone during sexual intercourse, but those levels decrease afterwards. Both women and men typically see increases in estrogen, testosterone, and cortisol levels during sexual arousal, which is maintained throughout sex and takes a few hours to taper off post-coitus.

While there is no negative physiological effect of sex before sport, prolonged abstinence can actually promote the desire to focus more on sport, whereas indulgence can actually reduce that drive. Sex can, for some, reduce the level of alertness or anxiety during a performance. In general, sexual satisfaction is linked to a higher quality of life, whereas prolonged abstinence can lead to depression.

On average, sexual intercourse burns around 25 calories, so athletes shouldn’t be worried about wasting too much energy before a big game. Additionally, the type of sex that athletes have before games differs. Athletes who compete in teams are more prone to pre-marital sex and more sexual partners than athletes who compete in individual sports.

The nature of the studies Stefani studied are a bit scattered. Although these general conclusions have been made, there is still more investigation that must be done in order to solidify findings on this topic. It would be safe to say that the ultimate answer comes down to the individual athlete.

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