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February 14, 2008

Let's Talk About Sex

Administrative note: A version of this article appeared in the Monterey Herald in November of 2005. I made some minor revisions and additions here, but the vast majority of the current post ran as scripted below. Hopefully after reading it, you’ll appreciate my recent disbelief about how my snot rocket article got yanked, but THIS one somehow lived to see the light of newsprint.

And if you’re anything like me, this article might also make you wonder exactly why it is that I haven’t been fired yet.


“Let’s talk about sex, baby –
Let’s talk about you and me –
Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be.”

– Salt ‘n’ Pepa, “Let’s Talk about Sex”

It’s perhaps one of the most contentious questions ever asked: does sex affect your athletic performance? For as long as people have played games, there has been disagreement as to whether those other kinds of “games” are a help or a hindrance.

During the 4th century BC, Plato described the training regimen of Ikkos of Tarentum leading up to the ancient Olympic Games. Ikkos was a legendary athlete who was known to consume large quantities of cheese and goat meat, and often coated himself in olive oil to make his rippled body gleam. He also gave up sex during his peak training buildup (not that surprising, really, considering that olive oil thing), and went on to win the Olympic Pentathlon. Plato’s account is considered the first documented endorsement of abstinence before competition.

However, famed historian Pliny the Elder turned the argument on its head in his best-selling (or whatever they called something that was popular back then) treatise Natural History, released in AD 77. Pliny’s statement that “Athletes when sluggish are revitalized by love-making” was like an Emancipation Proclamation for horny athletes everywhere.

The battle has raged ever since. While most studies show that getting busy causes no tangible difference in athletic performance, athletes in all sports have weighed in on both sides. When it comes to shagging, it seems that everyone has something to say.

American track star Marty Liquori was one of the first runners to promote abstinence before races, saying that he liked to be “angry and aggressive” to race a fast mile. He explained that, "If you've had sex the night before, you'll be in a satisfied state and feel like smoking a cigarette."

Victor Plata, a member of the U.S. Olympic triathlon team, took the angry and aggressive approach to the extreme - Plata says he went 233 days without tapping, becoming “completely monastic” before the 2004 Athens Olympics.

However, in Olympic competition, it’s very likely that both Liquori and Plata were defeated by competitors who got their freak on just before the event. Among athletes, the Olympic Village is one of the most sexually vigorous gatherings imaginable. Whenever thousands of hardbodies with boundless energy and excess time on their hands gather together, the results are highly predictable.

At the Albertville Winter Games, condom machines in the athletes’ village reportedly had to be refilled every two hours. In Sydney, the organizers’ original order of 70,000 condoms was drained so quickly that they had to order 20,000 more - and the supply was still exhausted three days before the end of competition.

Breaux Greer, an American javelin thrower at the Sydney Games, reported that "There’s a LOT of sex going on. You get people who are in shape, and testosterone’s up, and everybody’s attracted to everybody." Such thoughts give new meaning to the concept of international diplomacy.

And yet, athletes continue to have differences of opinion on the effects of bedroom tapering. British sprinter Linford Christie habitually refrained, saying that a romp the night before a race made his legs feel like lead. On the other hand, the great Bob Beamon reported that he got some action on the eve of his record-shattering long jump at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Christie won one Olympic gold medal in the 100 meters, but Beamon set a world record that stood for 23 years. Draw your own conclusions.

Noted baseball sage Casey Stengel had an interesting take on the matter. Stengel liked to say that being with a woman never hurt a baseball player – it was the staying up all night to look for a woman that did him in. So presumably, if a willing partner just happened to be lying in the same bed, Stengel would give his players the green light.

Finally, Brazilian soccer star Ronaldo claimed that the key to his success in winning the 2002 World Cup was getting his groove on just before each match. He also says that to save his strength, he let his wife do most of the work. The lesson here is…actually, I’m not really sure there is a lesson here – I just thought it was a great story.

So the professionals are clearly undecided. But what about recreational athletes? Does boinking more frequently make us better competitors? Or conversely, does being a runner help you have a great sex life? None of us is trying to set any world records, but if a little extra bumping and grinding would help our race results, that would be good news indeed.

First - to set the record straight - I make no claim to be an authority in this field. Although I know a lot about training, I don’t pretend to have expertise in knocking boots. I can, however, give you some opinions and anecdotes from local runners, and allow you to make your own decisions.

For instance, one of my running partners is a respected physician who says he always thinks about sex while running, and likewise thinks about running whenever he’s exercising horizontally. He insists that it makes both his running and his sex life better. However, I’m keeping his identity anonymous so that he remains “respected.”

One of our local marathon runners also happens to be an instructor of human sexuality at CSU –Monterey Bay. She says the safest and most effective method for increasing your sex drive is proper diet and exercise. Running develops an enhanced cardiovascular system, with increased blood flow to ALL parts of the body. Therefore, running may affect your sex drive as much as boffing affects your running performance.

Additionally, consider a series of recent studies – some funded by Pfizer Inc., makers of Viagra - which indicate that regular sexual activity boosts levels of testosterone, one of the prime hormonal agents responsible for athletic performance in both men and women. Researchers found that sustained testosterone levels rose markedly when participants of either gender began having sex regularly.

(2008 addendum: now that I think of it … maybe Floyd Landis didn’t cheat after all. Maybe he just got a TON of French hospitality the night before that crucial mountain stage. How come no one else thought of this defense?)

Sex and running … running and sex. No matter what your personal preferences for pre-race competition may be, these topics will inevitably continue to be joined at the hip (so to speak) for countless years to come.

So what about my own personal experience? Are you wondering how often I get sprung, and what it does for my running? Honestly, I’d love to tell you. I’m always willing to share my knowledge, and I’ve said many times that there are no secrets in running.

Unfortunately, my wife DOES keep some secrets. And on this particular subject, that’s all I’m allowed to say.


Dana 2/14/08, 5:37 AM  

VERY interesting article. I'm thinking since I haven't had any in a couple of months that either I should be running at my peak(all that pent up frustration) or I should be dragging. Let's just say that I have been very fast..;-)

Matt 2/14/08, 6:19 AM  

Ok, I will volunteer to conduct a study to see if increased amounts of sex reduces an athletic performance. I know it might be a long study (that's what she said), but I'm up to the task. I'll sacrifice.

running private 2/14/08, 7:10 AM  

I'm currently running at my fastest ever and spending valentine's day alone. People can draw their own conclusions!

Audrey 2/14/08, 9:20 AM  

Hmmm....I think we would need a carefully controlled study to work out all of these variables. For example, what if you're "getting some" regularly-but not the night before the race...there are so many permutations to tease this all out.

I linked this post to my blog! Hope you don't mind!

Anonymous,  2/14/08, 10:02 AM  

Too bad Landis had low testosterone levels.

olga 2/14/08, 10:41 AM  

Evil, you are evil. What I am supposed to do been at work now?? OK, I talk about sex every time I run, and I think run every time I, hmm, you know. There is a rumor amongst some locals that sex before the race for a guy is a no-no (waste of testosteron) and for a gal is a big YES. Excercising increases sex drive (and endurance, may I add), but also makes one tired and sleepy (and regime dependant) a lot. After a long run sex is the best thing ever happened! Overall, it's a great thing invented by Universe.

the Dread Pirate Rackham 2/14/08, 11:01 AM  

how much do I love this post!

(a lot)

so very interesting -- I have no conclusions of my own to draw, with different anatomy comes different...issues...

Thomas 2/14/08, 11:07 AM  

No wonder Plata has such a desperate look in his eyes.

rick 2/14/08, 12:00 PM  

Bedroom tapering, that's hilarious. I had no idea the Olympic Village was such a party.

Backofpack 2/14/08, 3:36 PM  

Just how many euphemisms do you know for "doing it"? I'm impressed. I am surprised they let this one go in the paper and not the snot rocket one. I mean come on, this one, though interesting, is one we can figure out on our own. But snot rocketing? A runner needs a little guidance on that!

Annette 2/14/08, 4:47 PM  

I'm with Michelle, I kept wondering how many different words for sex you had. I'm picturing you writing this article with a list of synonyms nearby. I'm also wondering how many of those synonyms got nixed before going to print. Thanks for the entertainment.

I guess sex is better than snot, huh? :)

triguyjt 2/14/08, 7:11 PM  

great stuff...
god bless floyd landis for getting some...allegedly during the tour.

saw nothing objectionable about the sex piece. perfect for a newspaper.

RunBubbaRun 2/15/08, 4:33 AM  

A very interesting question. I guess it is up to the individual to decide..

But with alot of triathlons, hardbodies and spandex. It is hard not to think about it during the race.

I guess I should become a condom vendor if Chicago ever gets the bid for the summer olympics. Sounds like a gold mine.

Ben, aka BadBen 2/15/08, 8:30 AM  

Sex and running go hand in hand (so to speak).
Happy trails,
Bad Ben

jen 2/15/08, 9:16 AM  

Great story. You certainly do have a lot of euphemisms on hand but if I read correctly you didn't sieze the opportunity to use "boinking" in the same sentence as "bonking!" Oh well. ;) Great article though.

I just caught up on the past few posts too, loved 'em. The GPS article was great- I'm going to start thowing around the "beta factor" as I see fit. Great pics in your last post, the weather has been beautiful.

Have a great weekend!

Rainmaker 2/15/08, 8:03 PM  

Hmmm...clearly I now have some scientific investigation to do. Any volunteers? :)

robtherunner 2/16/08, 11:02 AM  

The answer why this one made it to print is obvious. Sex sells! Snot rockets, I'm not so sure.

Patricio 2/16/08, 12:11 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patricio 2/16/08, 12:17 PM  

Sorry, I wanted to edit my last comment and remembered I can't, so I deleted it and here it is again:

Nice... you got a ton of comments. Interesting stuff.... I have asked the same question: does sex affect you in sports? Some say yes, and others no. How about former NBA player Will Chamberlain who claims he had sex with 20000 women, and he is the only player ever who has scored 100 points in a game... hee hee hee.. there you have it! :)

Cliff 2/16/08, 8:12 PM  

Maybe the condoms are running out b/c they are making balloon animals..i am just saying ;0

Also who are using them..the athletes or the spectators??

Jodi 2/17/08, 10:44 AM  

Well, I am certainly getting much faster in my current state of uncoupledness... but that is one thing I wouldn't give up intentionally for speed.



My Life & Running 2/19/08, 7:32 AM  

Oh wow... I cannot belive this article, full of choice bits of "without tapping" and "I get sprung", beats out the lauding of snot rockets....

Maybe it was deemed printable because you referenced Plato & Pliny? Just throw a bit of Classics in there and people think they should listen to what you have to say... (thus why I was a Classics major).

Curious - what do elite *female* athletes have to say on the topic?

And finally... mmmm olive oiled ripply men. Thanks for that. ;)

momo 2/20/08, 4:59 PM  

i can't believe i've been gone long enough to miss this post. i have nothing really to comment except to say that i laughed so hard big j was wondering what was going on!

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) 2/27/08, 9:46 PM  

Brilliant post. Great fodder for cocktail conversation, once my social life resumes, someday. It was fun to see how many synonyms you could come up with.

Without going into too many details, I must say that without ultrarunning, periods of not enough sex (or no sex at all, for instance, several weeks after a baby) would be intolerable. It is possible to run and run and run, er, so long and so hard that I become too tired to even remember how horny and deprived I have become...

I hope your wife rewarded you well for keeping your prolific private life a secret.

SWTrigal 2/5/09, 7:11 AM  

OK, is this pre or post midlife?
For me it makes a difference although my hubby will be pleased to hear that running increases testosterone (although he doesn't need anymore as it is and is an IM triathlete)..

Viagra 3/30/09, 5:26 AM  
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Anonymous,  11/25/09, 3:49 PM  
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Anonymous,  11/26/09, 11:37 PM  
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