Sex, Sweat Often

Want to Add Some Sizzle Between the Sheets? Here’s How Exercise Might Help

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If you’ve been having trouble getting motivated to go to the gym, this might help: Research shows exercise can have a positive effect on both your sex drive and how much enjoyment you get out of sex.

Nicole Prause, PhD, a sexual physiologist and founder of sexual biotech company Liberos, explains that exercise has both direct and indirect impacts on sexual desire.

Here’s what that looks like.

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How Exercise Affects Libido

Exercise Stimulates the Sympathetic Nervous System

“Directly, exercise, which increases sympathetic nervous system activity, is known to increase sexual responsiveness to sexual stimulation that occurs immediately after it,” Dr. Prause says. “Exercise likely acts as a prime to promote sexuality.” In other words, right after that sweaty lunchtime spin class, you may be all warmed up for a midday romp.

Exercise Increases Circulation … Everywhere

Likewise, an increase in blood flow from moderate exercise doesn’t just make your cheeks red, it increases circulation to more, well, sensitive areas. In one small study, for example, physiological sexual arousal significantly increased when women exercised right before watching an erotic film compared to when they did not.

Exercise Releases Feel-Good Endorphins

Exercise also causes a release of endorphins, feel-good hormones that are known to improve mood, ease symptoms of depression, and alleviate stress. You can take that runner’s (or lifter’s) high and use it for a bit of extra-curricular cardio with your partner.

Exercise Can Improve Body Image

Indirectly, exercise is related to an increase in libido due to improved body image and the boost in self-confidence we experience when we perceive our bodies as being healthier and/or attractive from exercise. Basically, all of those squats and planks not only make your butt look good, they also make you feel good about your butt, which in turn can increase sexual desire.

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Misconceptions About Libido and Exercise

While those links between exercise and libido are real, there are also aspects of the connection that are misunderstood.

It’s Not the Testosterone

First, many people believe that the boost in testosterone experienced by both men and women after exercise is responsible for an increase in libido. Dr. Prause says that’s a myth. “Testosterone levels are not related to sexual desire … except in cases when testosterone is profoundly low by disease (e.g., hypogonadism) and in one study where a small relationship was found with men between their testosterone level and desire for masturbation.”

‘More’ Is Not Always Better

And here’s the most interesting point: While working out will have a positive effect on sex drive for most people, unfortunately, you can have too much of a good thing.
People who engage in high-intensity exercise for extended periods of time, like ultra-marathoners, powerlifters, and other endurance athletes, may experience the other side of the pendulum swing and face decreased sexual desire. “Motivation to engage in a variety of non-exercise activities, including sex, can decrease at these very high levels of engagement,” Dr. Prause says. “The vast majority of Americans are unlikely anywhere near the level of exercise that would cross this threshold, but it is worth keeping in mind that, in this particular application, more is not always better.”

Of course, we know that’s true of almost everything—except leafy greens.

Which Type of Exercise Is Better for Libido?

Wondering whether there’s any specific type of exercise that’s better at boosting your libido than another? Let’s take a look.

1. Strength training

Some experts think that strength training may boost your libido more than that dance cardio class you love. The reasoning is that strength training is better at relieving stress than cardio is. (It also boosts testosterone more than other exercise, but as Dr. Prause shared earlier, testosterone’s libido-boosting powers are a myth.) But really any exercise that improves your strength and body image, and helps you blow off steam and reduce stress, will improve your libido.

Crop photo Fit girl doing exercise lunges with dumbbells in her hands at gym

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2. Swimming

Swimming is a great workout for so many reasons. When you swim, you build muscle (with pelvic floor muscles typically getting an extra workout), increase endurance and get the blood pumping, all without the harm to your joints that can come from other high-impact workouts. So, it’s no surprise that swimming can reap rewards outside of the pool. A Harvard study of 160 swimmers (male and female) found that participants in their 60s reported sex lives comparable to non-swimmers in their 40s. Laps, anyone?

Beautiful woman relaxing at the luxury poolside.

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3. Cardio

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin studied 35 women, ages 18 to 34. The women were given an erotic film to watch twice–once after cyccling vigorously for 20 minutes and the second time without prior exercise. Their sexual response was calculated with a device that measured blood flow to the genitals. Turns out, women’s vaginal responses were significantly greater after exercising.

exercise affects libido

4. Kegels

Kegel exercises, which help strengthen pelvic floor muscles, may also help boost libido in both men and women. Kegels help to tone vaginal muscles in women, which can lead to more powerful orgasms. For men, kegels can help to delay ejaculation. Squeeze … and release!

woman on bridge pose

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5. Yoga

Regular yoga practice has been shown to improve both sleep quality and sex drive. (For some of us, it can even do wonders at reducing migraines.) Yoga works its magic through its deep relaxation (which lowers stress levels), reducing pain, boosting our body image and improving flexibility–all boons in the bedroom!

how to meet someone IRL

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Bottom Line

Whether you’re a fish in the water, a devoted yogi, or a cardio queen, exercise is an excellent choice for both you and your sex drive.

(Images: Shutterstock)

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