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No Evidence that Sex Could Affect Sporting Results

Update Date: Jul 31, 2012 10:48 AM EDT

With the games of the XXX Olympiad in London fully underway, Olympians might want to find ways to release the stress that comes with the games. But, should they abstain before their big event?

It has been primarily believed that athletes should practice abstinence before important competitions because sexual frustration leads to increased aggression, and that the act of ejaculation draws testosterone from the body. For many years, coaches, Olympians and even Muhammad Ali, who was said to have gone without sex for 6 weeks before a big fight, have advocated sexual abstinence the night before an athletic event. Marv Levy, head coach of the Buffalo Bills, insisted that the team be separated from their wives before their appearance in four Super Bowls.

But, researchers reviewed several past studies and they say it suggests that sex the night before competition has no effect on physiological test results. They did, however, note that there is a need for more research on the topic of sexual activity and athletic performance.

In one of the studies, 14 married male former athletes were given a maximum-effort grip strength test the morning after coitus, and the same test following at least 6 days of abstinence.  The results showed that strength and endurance are not adversely affected by sex the previous night.  In a follow-up, Colorado State University researchers studied 10 fit, married men, ages 18-45 years old. In their tests for grip strength, balance, lateral movement, reaction time, aerobic power and VO2max (treadmill test), the results did not change with sexual activity.

The results from a 1995 randomized cross-over study suggested that sexual intercourse 12 hours prior to the test had no significant effects on maximal aerobic power, oxygen pulse, or double product.

"There is an optimal level of alertness/anxiety before a competition, and a poor performance will result from either being too anxious or not alert enough," the reviewers wrote. "If athletes are too anxious and restless the night before an event, then sex may be a relaxing distraction. If they are already relaxed or, like some athletes, have little interest in sex the night before a big competition, then a good night's sleep is all they need. This theory predicts that the results will be dependent on individual preferences and routines. The night before an important race is not a good time for drastic changes in routine. Consistency is the key."

At the London Games, 150,000 condoms were given to the 10,500 athletes competing.

Martin Milton, an expert in psychotherapeutic and counseling psychology at the University of Surrey, said, in an interview with Reuters, the effect of sex would depend very much on who's doing it, how often, for how long and in what way.

"If it's 'up all night swinging from the rafters' type sex we're talking about, then obviously the athlete is not going to be getting enough sleep or rest and their mind isn't on the job," he said in the telephone interview. "So that might well be more the issue than whether or not being involved in a short period of sex might be detrimental to someone's performance."

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