Studies have found that sexual intercourse the night before does not affect performance. Testosterone levels are affected by acute sexual behavior that would have any meaningful effect on muscle growth.
DOES SEX AFFECT MUSCLE GROWTH SUMMARY
- Sex does not impact muscle gains.
- Studies have found that sexual intercourse the night before does not affect performance.
- Testosterone levels are affected by acute sexual behavior that would have any meaningful effect on muscle growth.
“You leave off that pet shop dame!! Women weaken legs.”
-Mickey, Rocky Balboa’s Trainer
Rocky’s trainer told him to abstain from sex several weeks before fighting Apollo Creed because it would weaken his stamina. Interestingly, the great Muhammad Ali used a similar approach and said in an interview that abstaining from sex made him more aggressive. (Cooper, 1975) Most athletes and coaches have commonly believed that sex and muscle building can’t coexist.
The great debate has been around for decades, does sex before the big game make you weak as a kitten? The notion that sex was detrimental to athletic performance goes back to ancient Rome and Greece, where it was thought that sex promoted relaxation.
Coaches have told athletes not to have sex before the game; it will make them weak. A vast majority of athletes believe that they perform better when they abstain from sex before a big competition; beliefs were that abstinence improves performance and focus. (McGlone & Shrier, 2000; Wakefield et al., 2017) Another belief is that abstaining from sex leads to higher testosterone and muscle gains.
IS MASTURBATION BAD FOR TESTOSTERONE?
Post-sexual intercourse results in the release of both dopamine and serotonin, which causes relaxation; however, these neurotransmitters return to baseline quickly after that. Generally, this relaxation/refractory response period lasts 30 minutes or less after sexual activity. (Aversa et al., 2000)
No research has been conducted that I am aware of has examined masturbation pre-workout and strength levels. If this relaxation response lasts for such a short time, it’s questionable why athletes would think that performance would be affected the next day. It could only be surmised that sex immediately before high-intensity exercise may lead to performance decrements, but no research is available.
Another commonly held belief is sexual intercourse/masturbation affects testosterone levels. The long-held belief is that excess masturbation will lower testosterone and is counterproductive for building muscle. Lifters will commonly google search “does masturbation kill gains” and “does sex affect muscle growth?”
The original research debunking this myth came from primates in which researchers found no increases in testosterone after intercourse. (Phoenix et al., 1977) A small study in 2001 study in young men examined the effect of masturbation and found that masturbation did not increase testosterone levels in the body either. (Exton et al., 2001)
THE CHALLENGE HYPOTHESIS
The notion that sex decreases testosterone could have come from research showing that men in long-term committed testosterone have lower testosterone than single men. (Burnham et al., 2003) The Challenge Hypothesis is the belief that single men need higher testosterone for aggression and fending off other males. (Wingfield, 2017)
One study found that testosterone and libido levels increased when men ended a relationship and again when they entered a new one. (Dibble et al., 2017).
Researchers don’t understand the full story about testosterone and relationships; it’s complex. For example, one study examined hormones before and after speed dating. Men with the highest cortisol levels were found more attractive. Furthermore, testosterone was unrelated to any romantic speed dating outcome.(van der Meij et al., 2019)
This does not mean you should dump your girlfriend to get higher testosterone. As discussed previously, acute testosterone changes seem to have negligible effects on increasing muscle mass.
DOES MASTURBATION DECREASE STRENGTH/DOES HAVING SEX DECREASE STRENGTH OR PERFORMANCE?
Many lifters believe that sex or masturbation can lead to decreases in strength. Luckily, we have researchers that have examined this topic. The first study to examine this topic was conducted back in 1968.
A study evaluated athletes’ hand grip strength the next day after intercourse and after abstinence and found no difference in grip strength. (Johnson, 1968) Other researchers found that sex did not affect cycling performance or treadmill running. (Boone & Gilmore, 1995; Sztajzel et al., 2000)
What about weightlifting? It is commonly asked, “does ejaculating make you weaker” or “does masturbating before workouts make you weaker?” Studies have found that intercourse for 12 hours did not reduce leg strength force. (Valenti et al., 2018) A 2016 review of the literature found that sexual activity did not affect performance.(Stefani et al., 2016)
Other studies found that having sex the night before physical exercise performance did not affect strength, balance, agility, reaction time, anaerobic power, and maximal oxygen uptake. (Zavorsky & Newton, 2019; Zavorsky et al., 2019)
In conclusion, no solid evidence exists that sexual activity before a game will lead to impaired performance or strength. The reductions in performance could be due to impaired sleep the night before the competition rather than sex itself. (Craven et al., 2022)
Aversa, A., Mazzilli, F., Rossi, T., Delfino, M., Isidori, A. M., & Fabbri, A. (2000). Effects of sildenafil (Viagra™) administration on seminal parameters and post-ejaculatory refractory time in normal males*. Human Reproduction, 15(1), 131-134. https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/15.1.131
Boone, T., & Gilmore, S. (1995). Effects of sexual intercourse on maximal aerobic power, oxygen pulse, and double product in male sedentary subjects. J Sports Med Phys Fitness, 35(3), 214-217. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8775649/#:~:text=The%20results%20from%20the%20maximal,intercourse%20decreases%20maximal%20exercise%20performance.
Burnham, T. C., Chapman, J. F., Gray, P. B., McIntyre, M. H., Lipson, S. F., & Ellison, P. T. (2003). Men in committed, romantic relationships have lower testosterone. Horm Behav, 44(2), 119-122. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0018-506x(03)00125-9
Cooper, D. L. (1975). Can scoring influence athletic performance? Sex and the athlete. J Am Coll Health Assoc, 23(3), 197-199. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8775649/#:~:text=The%20results%20from%20the%20maximal,intercourse%20decreases%20maximal%20exercise%20performance.
Craven, J., McCartney, D., Desbrow, B., Sabapathy, S., Bellinger, P., Roberts, L., & Irwin, C. (2022). Effects of Acute Sleep Loss on Physical Performance: A Systematic and Meta-Analytical Review. Sports Medicine, 52(11), 2669-2690. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-022-01706-y
Dibble, E. R., Goldey, K. L., & van Anders, S. M. (2017). Pair Bonding and Testosterone in Men: Longitudinal Evidence for Trait and Dynamic Associations. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, 3(1), 71-90. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40750-016-0054-8
Exton, M. S., Krüger, T. H., Bursch, N., Haake, P., Knapp, W., Schedlowski, M., & Hartmann, U. (2001). Endocrine response to masturbation-induced orgasm in healthy men following a 3-week sexual abstinence. World J Urol, 19(5), 377-382. https://doi.org/10.1007/s003450100222
Johnson, W. R. (1968). Muscular performance following coitus. The Journal of Sex Research, 4(3), 247-248. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224496809550576
McGlone, S., & Shrier, I. (2000). Does Sex the Night Before Competition Decrease Performance? Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 10(4). https://journals.lww.com/cjsportsmed/Fulltext/2000/10000/Does_Sex_the_Night_Before_Competition_Decrease.1.aspx
Phoenix, C. H., Dixson, A. F., & Resko, J. A. (1977). Effects of ejaculation on levels of testosterone, cortisol, and luteinizing hormone in peripheral plasma of rhesus monkeys. J Comp Physiol Psychol, 91(1), 120-127. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0077300
Stefani, L., Galanti, G., Padulo, J., Bragazzi, N. L., & Maffulli, N. (2016). Sexual Activity before Sports Competition: A Systematic Review [Review]. Frontiers in Physiology, 7. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2016.00246
Sztajzel, J., Périat, M., Marti, V., Krall, P., & Rutishauser, W. (2000). 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. J Sports Med Phys Fitness, 40(3), 233-239. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11125766/
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 medicine, 15(6), 888-893. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsxm.2018.04.636
van der Meij, L., Demetriou, A., Tulin, M., Méndez, I., Dekker, P., & Pronk, T. (2019). Hormones in speed-dating: The role of testosterone and cortisol in attraction. Horm Behav, 116, 104555. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yhbeh.2019.07.003
Wakefield, J. C., Shipherd, A. M., & Lee, M. A. (2017). Athlete Superstitions in Swimming: Beneficial or Detrimental? Strategies, 30(6), 10-14. https://doi.org/10.1080/08924562.2017.1369477
Wingfield, J. C. (2017). The challenge hypothesis: Where it began and relevance to humans. Horm Behav, 92, 9-12. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yhbeh.2016.11.008
Zavorsky, G. S., & Newton, W. L. (2019). Effects of sexual activity on several measures of physical performance in young adult males. J Sports Med Phys Fitness, 59(7), 1102-1109. https://doi.org/10.23736/s0022-4707.18.09070-9
Zavorsky, G. S., Vouyoukas, E., & Pfaus, J. G. (2019). Sexual Activity the Night Before Exercise Does Not Affect Various Measures of Physical Exercise Performance. Sexual Medicine, 7(2), 235-240. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esxm.2018.12.002