Sexual Desirability and Sexual Performance: Does Exercise and Fitness Really Matter?

By Penhollow, Tina M.; Young, Michael | Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Annual 2004 | Go to article overview

Sexual Desirability and Sexual Performance: Does Exercise and Fitness Really Matter?


Penhollow, Tina M., Young, Michael, Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality


Introduction

The physical and psychological benefits of exercise have been documented quite extensively in prior research. Empirical evidence reveals that regular physical activity serves as a protective factor against many chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, including stroke, coronary artery disease, and hypertension. Physical activity is also important for reducing the risk of osteopenia (reduced bone mass), osteoporosis, and sarcopenia (reduced muscle mass) associated with aging (Wilmore, 2003). Moreover, daily exercise plays an important role in the prevention of two primary metabolic diseases: obesity and diabetes. Exercise has been known to enhance mental health as well. The psychological benefits of exercise include stress relief, mood elevation, increased self-image and self-confidence (Krucoff & Krucoff, 2000). Thus, there are many advantages for those who engage in regular physical activity.

While the association of an active lifestyle with a decreased risk of chronic diseases is well understood, advocates of exercise claim that physical activity may even enhance sexual performance and sexual pleasure (Krucoff & Krucoff, 2000; Stanten & Yeager, 2003). A study by Frauman (1982) found that increased time spent in physical activity was associated with a higher reported frequency of sexual behavior and frequency of desired sexual activity among a population of college undergraduate students. Physical endurance, muscle tone, and body composition all improve sexual functioning (Krucoff & Krucoff, 2000). Additionally, exercise activates the sympathetic nervous system, encouraging blood-flow to the genital region (Stanten & Yeager, 2003). Research shows that even low levels of physical activity tend to elevate mood and help keep "equipment" in better working condition (Krucoff & Krucoff, 2000; Stanten & Yeager, 2003). According to the literature, sedentary men could significantly lower their risk of erectile dysfunction by burning at least 200 calories per day (equal to fast-walking for about 2 miles) (Stanten & Yeager, 2003).

Research indicates that exercise may increase sexual drive, sexual activity, and sexual satisfaction. Results of a recent study reported that women were more sexually responsive following 20 minutes of vigorous exercise (Stanten & Yeager, 2003). Among males, short intense exercise is linked with increased testosterone levels, which may stimulate sexual interest and behavior. Conversely, too much exercise is associated with a decrease in testosterone and other male hormones, which may decrease sexual desire (Krucoff & Krucoff, 2000). Libido in men is dependent both on testosterone levels and on psychological factors (Weiss, 1997).

A recent study examined data from 31,742 men ages 53-90 in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study of dentists, optometrists, podiatrists, pharmacists, and veterinarians to check which lifestyle factors affected the risk of erectile dysfunction (Bacon, Mittleman, & Kawachi, 2003). Results of this study found that men over 50 who kept physically active had a 30% lower risk of impotence compared with inactive men.

Furthermore, a Harvard University study of 160 male and female swimmers in their 40s and 60s showed a positive relationship between regular physical activity and the frequency and enjoyment of sexual intercourse. Results stated swimmers in their 60s reported sex lives comparable to people in the general population in their 40s (Krucoff & Krucoff, 2000). Bortz & Wallace (1999) found a high level of sexual activity and satisfaction to be correlated with degree of fitness in both older men and women. A regular exercise program combined with regular sexual activity may be supportive elements for successful aging.

There has been extensive interest focused on the relationship between physical exercise and a variety of aspects of human functioning. …

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