From youth into advanced age, sexuality continues to be a key quality of life issue. A satisfying sex life is a critical element of overall health and happiness for many individuals, as sexuality plays a considerable role in intimate relationships as well as being an important aspect of overall emotional and physical health (Bridges, Lease et al. 2004, Penhollow and Young 2008).
A major development task of young adulthood is to achieve a healthy sense of sexuality, including positive feelings towards sexuality (sexual satisfaction) and encouraging mature, consensual relationships, while at the same time developing healthy sexual decision-making capabilities (Auslander, Rosenthal et al. 2007).
Sexual satisfaction is defined as ‘a multidimensional experience involving thoughts, feelings, personal and socio-cultural attitudes and beliefs, combined with biological factors’ The strongest predictors of sexual satisfaction include: overall relationship satisfaction, commitment, stability, partner initiation and communication (Penhollow and Young 2008). For elite young adult athletes, sexuality needs to be considered as an important component of elite sporting life, similar to other aspects of lifestyle such as managing stress and sporting- life balance.
Individuals with higher body satisfaction have more frequent sexual experiences, engage in a wider range of sexual activities, feel more sexually desirable, and report fewer sexual difficulties than those with lower body satisfaction (Weaver & Byers, 2006). A recent investigation by Holt and Lyness (2007) revealed a statistically significant positive relationship between body image and sexual satisfaction for both male and female college students. No significant differences were identified between males versus females, which supports the idea that body image concerns are not strictly a female problem.
Body image considerations for males align with what has been termed the “Adonis complex of attractiveness” as a result of increased efforts among males to build muscle and stay lean (Pope, Phillips, & Olivardia, 2000). Agliata and Tantleff-Dunn (2004) indicated men exposed to advertisements which conveyed an ideal image of attractiveness and muscularity became significantly more depressed and had higher levels of muscle dissatisfaction compared to those exposed to neutral ads. It has been reported, similar to the standards set for women, the ideal male body of the new millennium is increasingly unattainable (Pope et al., 2000; Wiseman, Gray, Mosimann, & Ahrens, 1992).
Differences between men and women:
Women are more sexually responsive after 20 minutes of vigorous exercise (Stanten and Yeager 2003); whereas, short intense exercise may stimulate testosterone in men and hence sexual interest and behaviours. Too much exercise may, however, lead to a decrease in testosterone and other male hormones, which may decrease sexual desire (Krucoff and Krucoff 2000).
Greater frequency of exercise and physical fitness levels have been reported to be associated with greater sexual performance and sexual desirability (Penhollow and Young 2004). In males, fitness levels significantly improved perception of sexual performance (p<.001) and sexual desirability (p<.002). Exercise frequency was significantly associated with enhanced perception of sexual desirability (p<.01) but not sexual performance. All males who exercise 6 or 7 days per week rated their sexual desirability as above average or much above average (Penhollow and Young 2004). In females, self-reported fitness levels significantly improved sexual desirability (p<.001) but no significant findings were found between fitness levels and sexual performance. Seventy one per cent of females who rated their fitness levels as much above average, rated their sexual desirability as above average or much above average (Penhollow and Young 2004).
Among those who exercised 4 or 5 times per week, 88% of females and 69% of males reported themselves as above average or much above average on sexual performance (p<.002). All males who exercised 6 or 7 times per week rated their sexual desirability as above average or much above average, whereas only 63% of the females did so (Penhollow and Young 2004).
Advocates of exercise claim that physical activity may enhance sexual performance and sexual pleasure (Krucoff and Krucoff 2000, Stanten and Yeager 2003). It is theorised that this occurs through the activation of the symphatetic nervous system, by encouraging blood flow to the genital region and has many benefits including increase mood (Stanten and Yeager 2003).
An early study by Frauman of undergraduate college students reported increased time spent in physical exercise to be associated with a higher reported frequency of sexual behaviour and frequency of desired sexual activity (Frauman 1982).
A recent investigation by Huang, Lee, and Chang (2007) found that exercise participation significantly impacted quality of life, in terms of physical health improvement, psychological health improvement, and sexual satisfaction. Thus, prior research supports the notion that engagement in physical activity produces benefits beyond physical health and impacts psychological sexual health variables as well.
To date, there are a limited numbers of scientific studies that have investigated the benefits of enhancing sexuality in elite athletes. A great deal of the literature in the non-elite population has outlined the benefits of physical activity and exercise on boosting sex drive and sexual satisfaction. Further research is needed to identify additional physiological or psychological correlates of the relationship between exercise and sexuality, and how these relate to performance in the sporting arena. Through physiological and psychological pathways, sex may be as important in recovery and preparation for competition as other well-known strategies such as managing stress and sporting-life balance.
Auslander, B., S. Rosenthal, D. Fortenberry, F. Biro, D. Bernstein and G. Zimet (2007). "Predictors of sexual satisfaction in an adolescent and college population." Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology 20: 25-28.
Bridges, S. K., S. H. Lease and C. R. Ellison (2004). "Predicting sexual satisfaction in women: Implications for counselor educaiton and training." Journal of Counselling and Development 82: 158-166.
Frauman, D. C. (1982). "The Relationship Between Physical Exercise, Sexual Activity, and Desire for Sexual Activity." The Journal of Sex Research 18(1): 41-46.
Krucoff, C. and M. Krucoff (2000). "Peak Performance." American Fitness 19: 32-36.
Penhollow, T. M. and M. Young (2004). "Sexual desirability and sexual performance: Does exercise and fitness really matter?" Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality 7.
Penhollow, T. M. and M. Young (2008). "Predictors of sexual satisfaction: the role of body image and fitness." Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality 11.
Stanten, N. and S. Yeager (2003). "Four workouts to improve your love life." Prevention 55: 76-78.
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About Tim Lathlean
PhD Candidate, Monash Injury Research Institute: Training loads, fatigue, sleep health and injury risk #AFL