ANNA J. JAMES
Wondering about all those athletes having sex at the Olympics? Does it help or hinder their athletic performance?
Two ground-breaking studies have concluded that sexual activity before sport is gold.
In conjunction with sex toy company Adam and Eve, Olympic coach Dr Mike Young monitored 21 female and male athletes over a three-week period to determine the psychological and physiological effects of sexual activity before sport.
“I was a little surprised that there is still so many athletes who think that sexual activity can have a negative impact on performance. This notion has no support in prior scientific literature,” said Dr Young, the Director of Performance and Research at Athletic Lab.
The study founded that sexual activity correlated with athletes running faster, jumping higher and competing stronger. Masturbation proved particular beneficial, leading to a 10% increase in agility and 13% increase in strength.
Sex and masturbation boost similar properties to performance-enhancing drugs including norepinephrine, which mobilises the brain and body for action, and prolactin, which aids metabolism and regulates the immune system.
Sexual activity also promotes the production of serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin; feel-good chemicals.
“Sexual activity can boost anabolic hormones like testosterone and reduce catabolic hormones like cortisol. This boost is relatively short lived though and likely not enough to push someone over the limits set by the World Anti-Doping Agency,” said Dr Young.
“The bigger benefit might be psychological. The fact that it’s an enjoyable stress reliever can’t help but boost performance for those that don’t have pre-conceived negative notions of sexual activity,”
Another study released in June, ‘Sexual Activity before Sports Competition: A Systematic Review‘, concluded that athletes can have intercourse up to 10 hours before an event without it affecting their performance (that is, if one avoids a post-coital Marlboro).
The study concluded that little scientific data was available on the subject, “with the exception of anecdotal reports of individual experiences.” And there are plenty.
At the 2000 Olympics, javelin thrower Breaux Greer worked hard on his performance.
Greer told ESPN that every day three women “visited” his room at the Olympic village, two of which were also athletes. On the flight back to the U.S., Greer and an unnamed competitor fornicated in the restroom, while the inflight staff looked the other way. They were, after all, Olympians.
“The Olympic Games is a perfect storm for sexual activity. You’re bringing together thousands of young men and women with fantastically beautiful bodies who’ve spent the previous four years living incredibly disciplined lives,” said Dr Young.
“You put them together in very close living quarters with a Las Vegas-like environment where ‘anything goes’ and there’s no expectation for commitments,”
ESPN journalist Sean Alipour describes the modern Olympian with a caveman’s needs: high in testosterone, competitive in spirit and simplistic in the emotional need for touch.
“Many on-the-prowl athletes maintain that they’re driven by a simple human need: intimacy, if only for a moment or three. For most Olympians, the ramp-up to the Games is lonely,” wrote Sam Alipour in ‘Will you still medal in the morning?’.
“Not unlike movie stars on a far-flung movie shoot, the Olympics present the perfect opportunity to find a partner who understands where they’re coming from,”
Professor of Sports Science at Victoria University, David Bishop, suggests that ancient superstition and medical folklore prevent athletes from engaging in sexual activity.
“Athletes are superstitious,” said Bishop.
“Coaches are usually ex-players who are passing this information down from generation to generation,” said Bishop. In his piece, ‘Sex before sport: does it affect athletes performance’ he explains since the 1st Century AD, Greek physicians purported that a man’s strength could be enhanced by the retention of semen.
Storing testosterone, one of the main ingredients of semen, is related to the idea of honing aggression, cultivating the ‘bring it all out on field’ mentality. Muhammad Ali famously avoided sex for six weeks before a match, and more recently, the 2014 World Cup Brazil team were placed on an intercourse ban.
However, scientific evidence debunks the abstinence approach.
If semen is unused, it is reabsorbed into the body. For six days following ejaculation testosterone levels will momentarily peak before returning to normal levels.
Therefore, neglecting to have sex could adversely affect the body. “After three months without sex, which is not so uncommon for some athletes, testosterone dramatically drops to levels close to children’s levels,” Emmanuele Jannini, Professor of Endocrinology at University of Rome Tor Vergata was quoted in the Adam and Eve study.
Somehow sex can’t seem to shake the ancient tag as an activity of the undisciplined.
“The sex in itself isn’t a problem,” said Bishop “The problem is staying at the nightclub until 3am. drinking and smoking, and we know how sleep can affect performance.”
“Sex in the afternoon is probably not going to be an issue,” said Bishop, reminiscent of the Chilean soccer player, Elias Figueroa, who routinely had sex on the afternoon before an important game, on coach’s advice.
Whether Figueroa followed this practice based on superstition or science remains unknown.
“Based off of the research findings I’d say athletes need to listen to their conscious. When it comes to sexual activity and athletic performance it really is a case where an individual’s perception is the same as their reality,” said Dr Young.
Whether an athlete believes sex will help or hinder their performance, they’re usually right.
“I was a happy man going into the competition,” three-trysts-a-day Greer told ESPN. “If you find somebody you like and who likes you, your world’s complete for a second, and you compete well,”
Conversely, Marty Liquori, an Olympic runner in the 1960s, argued: “Sex makes you happy. Happy people don’t run a 3:47 mile.”