Athletes and Libido
Can Exercise Affect My Sex Drive?

You know that feeling after a great workout: powerful, fit, sexy? Exercise can certainly boost your confidence. It’s also great for your energy levels, stamina, flexibility — which can certainly help in the bedroom.

A lot of your sex drive is the result of your hormones and chemical reactions in your body. You may have heard of pheromones, the chemical signals that stimulate attraction and desire. Let’s explore how your hormones drive your libido and how exercise affects your hormones and sexuality.

HOW DOES AROUSAL WORK

Sexual arousal and desire[1] occur when a variety of visual, biochemical, emotional, and biomechanical cues come together to stimulate a flood of hormones that lead to sexual activity, orgasm, and potentially egg fertilization. This sounds pretty clinical, right? Let’s break it down. Bear in mind, this is a simplified explanation, and human desire and arousal fully understood yet. 

You meet someone and find them visually appealing. You start to talk and learn more details that increase their appeal. These visual and societal factors stimulate the sex centers of your brain. If the attraction is mutual, both of you release pheromones and neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and oxytocin increase in your brain. 

Pheromones[2] are ectohormones. This means that instead of acting inside your body, like testosterone or estrogen, they’re secreted outside of your body. Medical researchers believe that humans detect pheromones through Jacobson’s organ (also called the vomeronasal organ), which is located in your nose. Jacobson’s organ connects to your hypothalamus. 

Your hypothalamus links your nervous and endocrine systems, and stimulates the production of hormones in other glands throughout your body — and you start to show signs of arousal[3]. Your heart rate increases and your blood vessels dilate. Your skin might flush. As blood flow to your genitals increases, you start to develop an erection, or your vaginal tissue begins to swell and release lubricant. 

If everything goes well and you’re both into it, your arousal continues, and you progress toward intercourse. Your testicles draw up into the scrotum, you develop a full erection, and your respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure continue to increase. 

During sexual activity, physical stimulation drives you toward your orgasm. After orgasm, your body returns to its normal functioning. You feel great, maybe a little sleepy. 

HOW DOES EXERCISE AFFECT ALL THIS?

Physical activity benefits nearly every aspect of your physical health, including your endocrine function. Exercise is also great for your mental and emotional well-being. 

PSYCHOLOGICAL BENEFITS

Working out can make you feel sexy. When you like how your body looks, your self-esteem improves, and you feel more sexy and confident, which can increase your chances of engaging in sexual activity. 

Exercise is also an excellent stress reliever — and stress can sabotage your libido. Stress increases cortisol production, which can eventually contribute to a decreased sex drive[4] and other reproductive issues. 

PHYSICAL BENEFITS

Regular physical activity increases your cardiovascular health, including circulation. Circulation problems are a common cause of erectile dysfunction. Your body needs to send blood to your genitals during the mid to late stages of arousal. 

Additionally, working out increases your endurance and stamina, which can help you maintain a satisfying sexual performance. When your muscles are strong and flexible, you can hold sexual positions and movements. Overall, your sexual performance improves. 

WHAT DOES EXERCISE DO TO YOUR HORMONES?

A variety of studies show the effects of exercise on your hormones. For example, in a study[5] of sedentary, middle-aged (40-70) men, participants showed an increase of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). However, the study didn’t show any increase in other androgens.

While there’s no clinical evidence that DHT affects your sex drive, low levels of SHBG interferes with the activity of your sex hormones and contributes to issues like erectile dysfunction and decreased sex drive. 

CARDIO OR STRENGTH TRAINING

Both cardio and strength training contribute to healthy hormonal balance. Ultimately, you should find an activity that you enjoy and want to do regularly as any physical activity is better than none. 

Exercise also helps your body use insulin efficiently, which regulates the conversion of blood sugar to energy and your overall metabolism. This enables you to maintain a healthy body weight, which is a critical factor in your overall hormonal health as well as your appearance, self-esteem, and the other psychological factors that contribute to your sex drive. 

DON’T OVERDO IT AT THE GYM

However, too much exercise can have a negative effect on your libido. A survey of around 1,100 physically active men[6] revealed that men who had light to moderate exercise

regimens (in both duration and intensity) reported higher libido than men who engaged in strenuous exercise. The study didn’t explore the relationship between intense exercise and low libido, but exhaustion and the physiological effects of continuous physical stress could contribute to the reported lower sex drives. Watch this space. The researchers plan to continue their research to gather more data about physical activity and sex drive. 

HOW MUCH EXERCISE SHOULD YOU BE DOING?

The CDC recommends 150 minutes a week[7], including both cardio and strength training. However, other research[8] shows that 40 minutes of aerobic exercise, four days a week, can help men with erectile dysfunction. 

You should talk to your doctor about how much exercise you should be doing to optimize your overall health. Checking in with your physician before starting a new exercise regimen can ensure that you add physical activity to your routine safely and reduce your risk of injury. 

Exercise is essential to staying healthy. While its effects on your hormones and sex drive aren’t fully understood, a healthy body functions optimally. 

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