Maury Z. Levy

The Sex Chapter

In Gym Psych: The Insider's Guide to Health Clubs on January 23, 2011 at 9:56 am

[From the book Gym Psych: the Insider’s Guide to Health Clubs, by Maury Z. Levy and Jay Shafran (Fawcett Columbine, 1986)]

They used to call it the broad jump. In 1968, at the Olympics in Mexico City, U.S. jumper Bob Beamon shattered the existing world record with a leap of twenty-nine feet two and one-half inches. Some seventeen years later, the rest of the world is still trying to come close. What was Beamon’s secret? How did he prepare himself the night before the big jump? With sex. Beamon had intercourse the night before. Hell, he screwed his brains out. He was very cool about the whole thing. Afterward, he admitted the sex, and his only comment was, “What do I do now?” Oh, a cigarette usually does the trick, Bob.

There’s always been some mystery, if not confusion,
about sex and sports. Different athletes handled it in
different ways. Muhammad Ali always stayed celibate for
six weeks before a fight. Did it help? Ali thought so. And
it’s hard to argue with his record. But for those of you,
men and women alike, who are more concerned fighting
the battle of the bulge than the heavyweight champ­ionship, there are some things you should know about
sex and athletics.

Sex isn’t all that taxing. Intercourse, even at its most
passionate, burns up about 250 calories an hour. And
unless you’re going for a world record in the sack, it’s
unlikely that you’ll lose more than twenty-five calories,
since the average lovemaking session lasts about five
minutes. (Did you ever wonder who times these things?
And where do they hide?)

To put those twenty-five calories into a gym perspec­tive, you’ll burn off about twice that in your preworkout
warm-up and stretch. For those of you not yet in the gym,
it takes about twenty-five calories to walk up a flight of
stairs. So if your bedroom is on the second floor, you’re
burning just as much energy going as you are coming. So
to speak.

Some athletes fear that sex will ruin their con­centration. Actually, just the opposite might be true. Sex,
like exercise, is a good way of venting stress—of losing a
lot of pent-up negative energy.

You have to know something about how the body works
to understand this. The adrenaline flow, the heightened
blood pressure—the same biological process that gets you
pumped up for sports—also gets you pumped up for sex.

This is where the brain comes in. The brain plays traffic
cop. Once the juices start to flow, the brain sends them to
the areas involved in the specific activity. And since the
body can only concentrate fully on one stimulus at a time,
you’re unlikely to see a man get an erection doing a bench
press.

This bodily flow of one-way traffic also explains why
after what seems like an exhausting workout, most people
still have lots of energy for sex. In fact, while getting those
juices flowing without draining the vital organs, the
workout now becomes a very interesting and very
effective form of foreplay. And there is data, dating back to
Kinsey, that shows the sex drive and sexual frequency of
an athlete exceeds those of the general population.

Lately, there’s been some speculation about internal
stimuli. You might have picked up on this if you watched
the Olympic marathon. Some of the runners interviewed
talked about a mysterious “natural high” that comes over
them at a certain point in the race. Some said it was like a
cocaine high—you just sort of float along, aware of things
outside your body, but not affected by them. The feeling is
caused by endorphins—the generic name for any of
several opiate-like substances produced by the body itself
and released in the brain in response to stress.

When runners get their “second wind,” when they
experience that so-called “runner’s high,” their en­dorphins have been released. And it’s not just limited to
running. It happens in weight lifting and aerobics, too.
The immediate effect is a sense of euphoria and a floating­
on-air feeling that makes you think you can do anything.

This, combined with increased adrenaline levels, can turn
the normally meek and mild into the super-aggressive.
Wally Cox meet Lyle Alzado.

There’s a workout-related plus, though, that lasts a lot
longer than an endorphin rush. It’s called confidence.
And it’s simple enough. The more you work out, the
better shape you get in, and the better you feel about
yourself. It doesn’t take a sociologist to figure that this
positive self-image can lead to a more active social life,
even to sex. Why do you think health clubs have been
called the singles bars of the eighties?

SEX AND STEROIDS

There are always those who need to take it one toke over
the line. Not satisfied with the body’s ability to deliver a
natural high, they’ll look for a little help through
chemistry. Enter steroids—male hormones produced
naturally by the testes or developed synthetically in the
lab.

The main natural male hormone (both sexes produce
male and female hormones) is testosterone. In its normal
function, it’s what makes males generally larger and
stronger than females after puberty. Testosterone causes
the body to retain nitrogen, part of the amino acid
structure that builds strong muscles.

And then there are the synthetics, the anabolic steroids
produced under names like Anavar, Dianabol, Durabolin,
and Winstrol. Many consider them the ultimate nar­cissistic tools. They’re taken orally or by injection. They sort of help nature along a little by stimulating muscle
growth through protein assimilation. That’s the good
news.

The other side of anabolic steroids is that they can
shrink the testicles, lower the sperm count, cause
impotence, promote male breast enlargement, decrease
the libido, damage the prostate, alter the function of the
liver, and cause cholesterol deposits in the arteries—
which can eventually lead to heart attack or stroke. And
that’s just in men. In women, anabolic steroids can cause
hair growth in some unlikely places; a permanent change
in the vocal chords, resulting in a deepening of the voice;
and, some doctors now tell us, a strong possibility of
cancer. Heard enough? Good.

ABOUT IMPOTENCE

There are still those who fear increased physical activity
will lead to impotence in both men and women (frigidity,
if you prefer the sexist term). That’s just not true. What
really causes sexual inadequacy? Usually it’s a combina­tion of stress and fear. Well, the data is trickling in (here’s a
postcard now) and it all points in the same direction.
Exercise is one of the best ways to alleviate stress and
improve self-image. As you feel better about yourself,
fears fall away and symptoms of sexual inadequacy often
disappear.

As Jack LaLanne says: “Show me a man who’s out of
condition and I’ll show you a man who very often just can’t
make it sexually. Because sex can never be fully satisfying

to a man or his mate if he is run down, tired and weak, or if
he is so tense that he can’t concentrate on the greatest of
pleasures. Besides, his uncomely physique can hardly
excite a woman or give him the pride and assurance he
needs to make the experience a truly exciting one for both
of them.”

You tell ’em, Jack baby.

HOW SEX WORKS

To understand how stress can affect sex, you need to
understand how sex works. This is important. Listen up.

In the early stages of sexual arousal, the body’s
parasympathetic system takes command by relaxing the
artery walls in the pelvic area, allowing them to dilate.
Once done, the blood flows in faster than it flows out. In
women, that causes vaginal lubrication as well as swelling
of the vulva, clitoris, and vaginal walls. In men, it causes
an erection.

As things get hot, the body’s sympathetic system takes
hold. This causes the pulse rate to quicken, breathing to
speed up, and muscles to tense. This tensing of muscles
leads to that “oh-my-god” feeling a woman gets just before
the muscular contractions of an orgasm, or that a man gets
before ejaculation.

But here’s where stress comes in. If your mind and
body are tied up somewhere else, you can’t relax during
sex and the whole delicate balance often gets thrown off,
causing the sympathetic system to jump the gun. Dealing
with stress isn’t easy. What has become clear though is that the old ways just don’t work. Having a glass of wine or
firing up a joint might relax the mind, but it plays tricks on
the body, interfering with the spinal reflexes needed for
sexual response. Putting alcohol or drugs in your system
before sex is like putting low octane gas in your car. It
affects performance by really screwing up the timing.

The answer, many psychologists are starting to realize,
is exercise. Simply: the more you get your system into
sync, the easier you’ll be able to deal with stress, and the
more pleasurable sex can become.

SOME SCIENTIFIC STUFF

You want proof that exercise helps your sex life, we found
proof. First, there’s a 1982 Ohio University study that
explored the relationship between physical exercise and
sexual behavior. It tested “average” students against those
who spent more time in the gym. The results? Both
frequency of sexual behavior and frequency of sexual
activity increased, significantly with the amount of phys­ical exercise. In other words, people who exercise
regularly are, as a group, just plain hornier.

Another study, also done in 1982, at the Crozier-Chester Medical Center in Chester, Pennsylvania, tried
to determine the effects of physical exercise on the
process of fantasizing. Forty college students were shown
inkblot cards under two sets of circumstances. First,
while just sitting in a lounge. And then, while pedaling a
stationary bicycle at mild levels of exertion. Libidinal
responses were seen as much more striking while the subjects were engaged in physical activity. In plain
English, exercise—even something as simple as riding a
bike caused these people to fantasize more and become,
as they say in the scientific journals, just plain hornier.

BACK TO REAL LIFE

We weren’t yet aware of the scientific findings when we
came upon Candi Coleman in a Los Angeles health club.

“Why do I work out?” Candi said, “Because I get off on
it.” At first, we didn’t know what to make of her. She’d get
on the stationary bike and ride hard for a while, breathing
heavily. Then she would stand up in the stirrups and do
sprints. Well, once she got going, her whole body started
to change. The look on her face went from exertion to pure
pleasure. Toward the end of each sprint, she would begin
to moan loudly before sitting down again, letting her
inner thighs caress the seat.

All heads on the training floor would turn to watch
Candi, who was now in a world of her own. The sounds she
made while working out were clearly the same sounds
most people make during sex. With each sprint, Candi
would moan louder and longer until finally, on her last
sprint, she would let out a huge scream, the kind that
would make Bob Beamon jump.

“I almost always have an orgasm on the bike,” Candi
says. “I’ve learned to work it just right now I get up
enough speed to get my blood flowing, and soon I can feel
myself starting to swell down there. Each time I come
down and touch the bike seat, I feel more of a tingle. Then I rev my body up again and the tingle gets stronger. I have
almost complete control over it now I can keep the
routine going for a full fifteen minutes before I come.”

Candi, a production assistant with a major movie
studio, is now talking about getting into competitive bike
racing. She might never cross the finish line first, but
she’ll sure have the most fun getting there.

You talk to trainers and you hear a lot of sex stories.
They try to help them along as much as they can. There
was a client in a New York gym who used to achieve
orgasm on the Nautilus leg curl machine because the
exercise causes you to press your pelvis against the body
pad. The trainers would keep her on this machine forever.

But sexually stimulating exercises aren’t limited to
women clients. At another New York gym, some female
trainers got a pretty stiff warning from management for
putting all their male clients on the Versa-Climber just so
they could watch their buns move up and down. The
numbers they yelled to each other across the floor had
nothing to do with the amount of reps. It was purely a
beefcake scoring system.

And where does all this bring us? To a pretty clear
knowledge that sex and exercise work together very well
indeed. We hope you’ve heard enough to follow Bob
Beamon’s example and not worry about one affecting the
other. You can do both and do both well. Casey Stengel
probably put it best when referring to his World
Championship New York Yankees: “It isn’t sex that wrecks
these guys,” he said, “it’s staying up all night looking for
it.”

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