Does Sex Count as Exercise?
If you've ever used sex to justify skipping the gym, this article is for you.
For many, working out is something they do not because they want to, but because they know they should. Maybe they enjoy the feeling of accomplishment in the aftermath of physically exhausting themselves, but hardly the waking up before work, the getting to the gym, the layering up before a cold run outside...and however else people who work out make it happen. It can be one of those activities that sucks while it’s happening, but makes you feel good once it’s over. What if it was just good all the way through, though, and then had the same beneficial results? Basically, I’m wondering if sex counts as a workout.
Broadly spoke to Dr. Christopher Vincent, sports physician and co-founder of Santa Monica-based health management center Altus Sports Institute, about whether or not sex counts as a workout.
According to Dr. Vincent, sex, defined as anything from foreplay to intercourse, can count as a workout, but doesn’t always. There are three areas to consider in order to answer this question, he says: how sex affects one’s heart rate, muscles, and brain.
“If your sex is very physical and you have a very physical partner, it can definitely be a workout,” says Dr. Vincent. This means that in sexual encounters where one person is doing most of the “work,” aka exerting more physical effort and moving more, only one person is getting the physical benefits of a workout.
"In the physical aspect, there are two parts: cardiovascular and muscle adaptation,” Dr. Vincent explains. “The more you're working a specific muscle group to fatigue, the more benefit you're going to get. Cardiovascularly, the higher your heart rate for a longer duration, the more cardiovascular benefit."
Studies have found that the average length of intercourse for straight couples lasts between 5.4 and 9 minutes, with entire sexual encounters between straight couples lasting an average of 19 minutes—all of which is shorter than the duration of a regular gym class. Another study, however, found that lesbian partners spent “significantly longer durations spent on individual sexual encounters than men and women in mixed-sex or male same-sex relationships.”
“If your sex is very physical and you have a very physical partner, it can definitely be a workout."
As your blood pressure increases during sexual stimulation, your muscles are working, too. Whether or not they’re working hard enough to count as a work out depends on many factors, and according to Dr. Vincent, the same logic and questions you’d ask yourself to determine whether a regular workout was effective apply here.
- What positions were you in?
- How rigorous was the activity?
- How out of breath were you both during and after sex?
- How sore were your muscles both during and after sex?
According to Dr. Vincent, if the sexual positions you engage in challenge your endurance, if you become significantly out of breath, or if you experience soreness during and/or after sex, “you’re probably getting some physical benefits.” (As I reported this story, a male friend I told about it said “you can definitely feel the burn” when it comes to some foreplay activities, like fingering.)
Sex’s similarities to exercise don’t end at the physical—they also extend to the brain. “There’s probably more of a correlation to working out with your brain and hormone release,” says Dr. Vincent. “We’ve heard of ‘runner’s high,’ or the hormones and endorphins that are released after exercise, and those are more similar to what happens with the hormones that are released during sex, after sex, or from an orgasm: prolactin, oxytocin, epinephrine, dopamine, testosterone, serotonin.”
Hypothetically, you could kill two birds with one stone and turn your sexual encounters into Barry’s Bootcamp–esque marathons, but that doesn’t mean you should. If you’re having regular, enjoyable sex, you’re likely getting some of the same benefits as hitting the gym already—though probably not enough to replace your workouts with fucking. Sad.