[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.
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.”