Until recently, we knew relatively little about how exercise might affect a man’s sex drive. But a study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill published in February 2017 sheds some light on this issue. It determined that men who exercised most strenuously were likely to have lower sex drive than those whose workouts were less intense.
It is unlikely, however, that these results will be the final word on the subject. The study was conducted by recruiting men through university athletic departments, groups that train men for triathlons and for running and cycling competitions as well as through publications aimed at endurance athletes. Men who agreed to participate were asked to download and respond to online questionnaires that asked about their sexual behavior, exercise habits and general health. A total of about 1,100 men responded to the questionnaires. Most were experienced, competitive athletes who had been training for years.
The researchers found that the men who described moderate or light intensity workouts were much more likely to have a high or moderate sex drive, while those who reported the most intense workouts had lower libido. The assessments were based on responses to a questionnaire that asked how often they thought about or engaged in sex. Age played a role here, too, although the older men’s answers suggested that their libido was not much lower than that of younger men in the study.
We don’t know that the answers reflected objective consideration. At best this study reveals an association between intense and prolonged exercise and male sex drive. It doesn’t prove that exercise was responsible for the lower sex drive among the men who reported performing it most strenuously.
And we don’t know why intense exercise should have this effect. Study leader Anthony Hackney, a professor of exercise physiology and nutrition, was quoted in news reports as saying that fatigue and lower testosterone levels after a long, exhausting workout might play a role. He and his team plan to study the interactions between exercise, hormone levels and sex drive in men to determine whether the duration or the intensity of exercise has the most impact, if any, on male libido.
We’ve known for some time that prolonged and intense exercise can lead to hormonal problems in women athletes, causing menstrual dysfunction, decreased interest in sex, and impaired ability to conceive. Fortunately, easing off intense activity usually is corrective.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
A.C. Hackney et al, “Endurance Exercise Training and Male Sexual Libido.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, February 13, 2017, doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001235