Sex files: Running and libido

RW investigates the intimate, intricate relationship between your running life and your sex life.


by Kerry McCarthy
Getty Images

If you’re worried your training is going to leave you with no energy in the bedroom, think again: research has shown that regular exercise actually boosts your libido. This is partly down to exercise’s effectiveness in combating stress, a major cause of low sex drive. The more stressed you are, the less likely you are to want sex; a study from the University of Gottingen in Germany found that people who have sex less often tend to take on more work to compensate for their frustration. The increased work then leads to more stress and, you guessed it, even less sex. A recent study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine that looked at levels of post-training testosterone and alpha-amylase (a marker of nervous system activity) in women found a significant rise after 20 minutes of vigorous exercise, leading to test subjects being in an increased state of ‘readiness for sexual activity’.

‘There is a similar boost for men,’ says performance psychologist John McDermott. ‘Studies have shown that men who do short, sharp exercise sessions of 20-60 minutes three to five days a week experience an increase in testosterone production, which contributes to increased sexual desire and confidence.’

And this increased friskiness is not age-dependent. Two studies from Harvard University, US, measured the increase in sexual desire after regular exercise in both college students and people aged 40-60. In both age groups the more physically vigorous subjects reported a higher incidence of sexual activity.

According to McDermott, the psychological element of improving confidence about your physique also plays a role in the relationship between exercise and libido. This view is backed by US research from the University of Arkansas, in which physically fit men and women rated their own sexual desirability higher than less active men and women of the same age.

Eighty per cent of men and 60 per cent of women who exercised two to three times per week rated their sex appeal as ‘above average’.

Look to the athletes in Olympic villages and we see this theory in action. At London 2012, officials allocated 15 condoms per athlete (a total of 150,000 over 17 days), compared with the 100,000 handed out in Beijing 2008, the 75,000 at Athens 2004 and the 50,000 at Sydney 2000. And despite these successive increases, supplementary supplies were required at each of the Games (aside from Beijing). And it’s not just the elites. In our own Runner’s World Sex & Running Survey, 93 per cent of more than 1,500 respondents said they felt running gives them more body confidence in the bedroom, with 68 per cent also saying they felt more sexually aroused after a run. The message is clear: if you want to get your kit off, stick your running kit on.


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