By Kristi Pahr
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
“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.
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 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.
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.
While those links between exercise and libido are real, there are also aspects of the connection that are misunderstood.
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 within men between their testosterone level and desire for masturbation.”
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.