For many years there has been a belief among sportsmen (yes almost exclusively men) that in the weeks before a competition they should refrain from having sex.
The idea is that sex “weakens the legs” and it is so pervasive a belief that you’ll see It in films, you’ll see it in professional sports teams, and you’ll see it in amateur sports too.
There have been a lot of neglected partners due to this belief, but is there any substance?
In this article we will take a look at whether sex before a competition has any effect on performance, before taking an in-depth look at the relationship between masturbation and testosterone.
The Truth about Sex and its Effect on Performance
The idea that having sex before a sporting competition can affect your performance has been around for centuries, and is still believed by many athletes today.
The problem was that there was little to no scientific studies that looked into this, and it is hard for an athlete to make their own mind up.
All the information that they were receiving was anecdotal, and abstaining from sex would hardly negatively affect their performance so why risk it?
This became something of a placebo effect. Because the athlete had been told that abstaining from sex would lead to an improved performance, they then attributed any success to the abstinence.
If they performed badly, they didn’t immediately blame the lack of sexual intercourse, they blamed something else. Once you’re in this mindset it is difficult to step away from it, and suddenly it’s a tradition.
Recently there have been quite a few scientific studies that have looked at whether sex affects exercise performance.
A 2000 study looked at fifteen high-level male athletes who were subjected to a cycle ergometer test (basically an exercise bike) .
The study compared their performance on a day where they had not had sex, and their performance on a day that they had.
The study found that sexual activity had no effect (positive or negative) on performance.
A meta analysis on the subject was carried out in 2016. The study found that so long as sex was not undertaken 2 hours before a training session, it could actually be beneficial! .
The main thing that this study found though was that there were not enough well researched studies out there.
What do these studies tell us? Well in the short term, having sex has no effect on exercise performance. Meaning that your favourite sports stars can continue to have as much sex as they want, while also making tonnes of money, and being universally adored. What lucky people.
But there is another belief, that is similar to the no sex before exercise. This belief is that ejaculating can lower testosterone in men.
The idea is that the longer you abstain from sex, the higher your testosterone levels.
Basically, if you take this belief to its logical conclusion Catholic Priests must have the highest testosterone levels on the planet.
In the next section we will look at whether abstinence does affect testosterone levels, and we will answer the question of whether masturbation and testosterone levels are linked.
Abstinence and its Effect on Testosterone
A study in 2001 looked into the effect that abstinence had on testosterone levels .
The study found that abstaining from sex or masturbation for a period of three weeks led to a slight increase in testosterone levels.
Other studies have found that abstaining for longer than this period can actually reduce testosterone levels though.
This tends to give credence to the beliefs of all those coaches and athletes that recommended abstinence before a competition.
However it is important to remember that the small increase in testosterone does not seem to have had any effect on exercise performance.
In practical terms, abstaining from sex or masturbation does not improve performance, but may slightly increase testosterone.
Masturbation and Testosterone: Are they linked?
The purpose of masturbation is to ejaculate, and many people believe that the process of ejaculation can actually lower testosterone.
It makes sense when you think about it.
Testosterone is produced mostly in the testes, and ejaculation basically empties them.
Luckily science has continuously proven that not only does ejaculation NOT lower testosterone, but it can actually increase testosterone levels!
On the other hand, ejaculating too much (like chronically) can actually lower testosterone.
This makes sense because ejaculation can be a draining process in the same way that exercise can be. Over do either and you can become run down, tired, and your testosterone levels can suffer.
There does seem to be some evidence that having sex rather than masturbation can increase testosterone levels, whereas masturbating alone does not seem to have any effect either way (unless you overdo it).
Whether you decide to have sexual activity or abstain from sexual activity before an event is up to you. There really doesn’t seem to be too much difference between either choice.
If you think that having sex can affect your concentration or your focus, then you’re probably right.
If you think that it will relax you and therefore help you perform better then you are also right. It’s how YOU feel that it will affect you.
When it comes to masturbation and testosterone, there also seems to be little difference either way.
If it was a choice of sex or masturbation then sex seems to be better. It can increase testosterone, and has many other benefits. But not everyone is blessed with a partner to have sex with.
Masturbation will not affect testosterone unless you overdo it.
We’re in an age where there is more access to information than ever before, but this is one subject that has just not been explored thoroughly enough.
The meta analysis by Stefani et al  mentioned that there weren’t enough well run studies, and that almost all the studies had looked exclusively at men.
As you’re probably aware, women also enjoy sex, masturbation, and exercise, but this article has been exclusively aimed at men, because there’s just no science to go on for women. Which is a shame.
Let’s all hope that there are more and more scientists asking embarrassing questions of professional sports men and women over the next few years!
 Sztajzel, J., Periat, M., Marti, V., Krall, P., Rutishauser, W. 2000. Effect of sexual activity on cycle ergometer stress test parameters, on plasmatic testosterone levels and on concentration capacity. A study in high-level male athletes performed in the laboratory. The Journal of Sports Medicine & Physical Fitness 40(3): 233-9
 Stefani, L., Galanti, G., Padulo, J., Bragazzi, N., Maffulli, N. 2016. Sexual activity before sports competition: A systematic review. Frontiers in Physiology 7: 246
 Exton, M., Kruger, T., Bursch, N., Haake, P., Knapp, W., Schedlowski, M., Hartmann, U. 2001. Endocrine response to masturbation-induced orgasm in healthy men following 3-week sexual abstinence. World Journal of Urology 19(5): 377-82