The claim: Sex before a big race or big game lowers your performance.
The facts: Many athletes and coaches abide by this belief, which dates back to ancient Greece and Rome. In 2014, the coach of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s soccer team told reporters that his players were banned from having sex during the World Cup in Brazil. Olympic athletes have talked about practicing abstinence the night before—or even days or weeks before—their events. It’s even said that Muhammad Ali went six weeks without sex before a major fight.
It turns out that all this abstinence may not be necessary. A 2016 review of nine studies on the topic concluded that “doubts remain regarding the possible negative impact of sexual activity the night before competition,” but based on available data, “it appears that there is no evidence of a negative impact in males and females.” In fact, as the review also noted, anecdotal experiences suggest the opposite may be true—that sexual activity can have a positive effect on athletic performance, if it is done at least 10 hours before a competition (an interval that allows for a good night’s sleep).
Another paper, published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine in 2000, concluded that sex before a competition does not alter physiological testing results—variables like balance, lateral movement, aerobic power, and reaction time.
Of course, participating in competitive sports isn’t just about specific measures of athletic performance. It’s also about the athlete’s state of mind. If an athlete strongly believes that avoiding sex before a competition is important, that conviction itself may impact performance. But if an athlete is on the fence about whether to abstain or not, science says it’s okay to have some fun in bed. Just don’t stay up all night!
Also see Painful Sex: How Common Is It?