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.