Sex and sports have always been linked. Many modern-day athletes are known more for their sex-symbol status than their athletic accomplishments.
Along with a focus on sexuality, athletes’ sexual activity has also been a source of controversy.
Legendary boxer Muhammad Ali abstained from sexual intercourse for six weeks before he had a fight, believing it would deter his performance.
More recently, the New Zealand rugby team—having not won a World Cup since 1987 despite being perennial favourites—decided to all desist from sex in an attempt to reverse their fortunes.
Despite these traditions, scientific evidence has shown sex before sports doesn’t adversely affects performance.
There’s no scientific evidence suggesting sexual activity deters athletic performance Queen’s graduate Dr. Andrew Pipe, Medical Director of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute’s Minto Prevention and Rehabilitation Centre and the Canadian National Basketball Team’s physician since 1978, told the Journal.
“Despite the myths and the misconceptions and the prevalent dogma, there really is little evidence to support the contention that restraining from sexual activity somehow enhances the likelihood of your performing better.”
The only way sex could hinder performance would be a lack of sleep, Pipe said.
“It’s the fact that people are out until all hours of the morning trying to get sexual activity that degrades their performance.”
The myth that sexual activity affects performance at all comes from the superstitious nature of sports, Pipe said.
“I think it’s true of sport that very often superstition, dogma and tradition prevail over science. … Up to the present time the evidence just does not support the contention that sexual activity could degrade athletic performance.”
Indeed, the opposite could be true, he said.
“There’s probably good evidence to the contrary that if you want people to be well-rested and have a night’s sleep, that sexual activity is a sleep-inducer.”
Pipe added that, in his work as a team doctor, sex is a topic that comes up, but in a different light.
“The most important things that one can talk about to athletes regarding sexual activity relates to responsible sexual activity. … That’s probably the essence of the message that I would deliver to players of the teams that I have been involved with,” he said.
Lauren Young, ArtSci ’08, is the captain of the women’s rugby team. She said the team has regulations about drinking, but not about sex.
“It’s more about drinking three days ahead of a competition; you’re not supposed to drink all week,” she said. “We sign contracts about alcohol. Certain foods and activities [are discouraged, it’s] more like don’t go to bed every night at three o’clock in the morning.
“Sexual activity is your personal life and if you want to go do [that] that that’s your choice.”
Young said she thinks the myth that sex diminishes playing ability stems more from fear tactics than actual facts.
“I guess it lets down your aggressiveness, makes you too relaxed, and you’re not focused. That’s what I’ve heard, but never have I ever had a coach from Queen’s or in my rugby career playing for Ontario or any club saying, ‘You can’t do this,’” she said.
“I think it’s more of a placebo effect: ‘If you have sex you’ll play bad, and if you don’t you’ll play good.’ It’s more mind tricks then anything.”
The report “Does Sex the Night Before Competition Decrease Performance?” published in 2000 by Ian Shrier, a sports medicine expert at McGill University, is seen as the definitive study on the topic, Pipe said.
“There are two possible ways sex before competition could affect performance,” Shrier concluded in his report.
“First, it could make you tired and weak the next day. This has been disproved. The second way is that it could affect your psychological state of mind. This has not been tested.”
Shrier added in his article that sex only burns about 50 calories—the equivalent to walking up two flights of stairs.
Coaches have taken steps in the past to forbid their players from having sex, believing it makes them more aggressive on the field due to higher levels of testosterone. For example, at Euro 2004, the German soccer team’s doctor banned all wives and girlfriends from the team’s hotel.
Despite the regulations on sex that exist in professional sports, Dave Wilson, head coach of the Queen’s women’s basketball team, said there’s no policy on when athletes are allowed to have sex.
“That’s never been discussed or raised in any way, shape or form with our group, and it certainly wouldn’t be something I’d be looking at guidelines on,” he said. “Our premise for operating the team is do whatever you can to help the team.”
Athletes generally understand certain lifestyle decisions are better than others, Wilson said.
“The human body being as complex as it is, it’s very individualistic,” he said. “It’s one thing to say if you put stuff into your body they’ll have an impact, it’s a whole other thing to talk about activity.”
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