Now, with the 2016 Summer Olympics underway in Rio de Janeiro, the idea of athletes “getting busy” is back in the spotlight. About 450,000 condoms were allocated this year for athletes to have safe sex.
For those who decide to partake in sexual activity, will doing the deed dampen athletic performance on the court, track or field or in the ring?
What athletes say about sex
The idea dates to ancient Greece and traditional Chinese medicine, which both suggest that abstaining from sex could increase frustration and aggression, and boost energy, said David Bishop, research leader at Victoria University’s Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living in Melbourne, Australia.
Remember the 1976 film “Rocky”? In the movie, boxer Rocky Balboa’s trainer, Mickey, declares that “women weaken legs,” suggesting that the athlete should put romance on hold while training and competing.
They concluded that “the recovery capacity of an athlete could be affected if he had sexual intercourse approximately 2 hours before a competition event.”
A separate paper, published last month in the journal Frontiers in Physiology, found that sex had no significant effect on athletic performance. The paper involved a systematic review of nine studies on the topic of sexual activity and athleticism.
Those researchers concluded that “The present review demonstrates that sex activity in sport is poorly investigated in both males and females. However, the data available do not really support the misconception that sex activity can produce a negative effect on the athlete’s performance.”
Sex advice for athletes
All in all, athletes attending the Olympic Games in Rio this month should not worry excessively about how sex may affect their competitions, said Emmanuele Jannini, professor of endocrinology and medical sexology at the University of Rome-Tor Vergata in Italy.
“Sex is not just fun but also healthy,” he said, “however, if concentration is important, I would suggest to avoid sex for some few days before the game.”
Bishop, the sports scientist in Australia, advised against having sex only if it was going to affect sleep.
“If sex is going to affect performance, it will be via a lack of sleep. … Wait until after your final event,” he said, adding, “but I can’t see any problems with having sex and then getting a good night’s sleep.”
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“Current thinking in elite sports is that athletes should act in ways they consider ‘normal’ and not do something that goes against their beliefs, which will induce guilt, such as believing pre-competition sex is not good for you and yet engage in sex anyway,” said Mark Anshel, professor emeritus at Middle Tennessee State University’s Department of Health and Human Performance.
“A lot of athletes feel guilt-free and OK about pre-competition sex because it helps them sleep better as long as their sleep is not disrupted and sex does not follow a night of partying and alcohol intake,” he said. “Most contemporary coaches seem to agree.”