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The Latest: How Sex Impacts Your Athletic Performance

A meta-analysis of studies debunks the idea that sex too close to an event can mess with your strength and endurance.

There's tons of back and forth over whether abstaining from sex for days, even weeks, before a big event is a bad idea. Some experts believe skipping out on sex at least 48 hours before competition is best since anything closer to game day may relax you too much and decrease aggression and testosterone, crucial to certain sports, like wrestling, boxing, MMA, and football. Then again, if you're a quarterback, marathoner, or golfer, sex could be just the thing to calm frazzled nerves. Read How Sex Affects Your Workout for the full rundown.

Now, you might also remember reports about the 450,000 condoms circulated and handed out around the Olympic Village in this year's Games in Rio. Kind of an odd party favor, if you will, for thousands of top-tier athletes if the common consensus is that abstinence is the key to optimal athletic performance, right? Well, not if athletes want to blow off steam once their event wraps up or don't agree with the beliefs of ancient Roman and Greek educators who felt abstinence was the only way to ensure harmony between body and spirit. Even in this day and age, some coaches  believe sexual frustration leads to increased vigor and that ejaculation draws testosterone from the body, reducing aggression and strength, per research published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.​

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To make some sense of all this, Frontiers in Physiology researchers read through hundreds of studies regarding sexual activity's influence on sport performance. Their meta-analysis debunked some myths, but the researchers weren't thrilled with how little hard evidence there is on the relationship between sex and sport. In fact, once they filtered studies for those with the utmost reliability, only nine were left and included in their analysis.

"Abstaining from sexual activity before athletic competition is a controversial topic in the world of sport," lead study author Laura Stefani said in a press release. But she notes: "We show no robust scientific evidence to indicate that sexual activity has a negative effect upon athletic results."

One study observed former female athletes; they found their levels of strength didn't differ whether or not they had sex the night before an event. Another body of research discovered a beneficial effect sex had on marathon runners' performance

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"We clearly show that this topic has not been well investigated and only anecdotal stories have been reported," Stefani adds. "In fact, unless it takes place less than two hours before, the evidence actually suggests sexual activity may have a beneficial effect on sports performance."

The review also revealed males were investigated far more than females, but didn't note any comparison on the effect of sex across genders. There's also no real evidence on the psychological or physical effects on sport performance. But they do note cultural differences and attitudes toward sex can influence how much or how little of an impact it has. All of these factors need to be studied in a proper investigation, the researchers conclude. 

Bottom line: Relax, the current evidence debunks long-held abstinence theories, and you shouldn't feel guilty about engaging in your typical sexual escapades up to the day before competition.

So long as you're not trying anything acrobatic or out of the norm from your normal sexual behaviors, or getting laid as a result of going out really late, smoking, drinking, and the like, you shouldn't experience any harmful side effects from sex in and of itself.

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