Sex and masturbation are taboo topics in our society but when it comes to health and fitness the orgasm may be one of the best tools we have. Here at Metabolic Effect we talk an awful lot about something we call “rest-based living.” Our followers learn that relaxation, recovery and rehabilitation activities are essential for lowering stress to give the body a chance to recharge and heal.
Orgasm is one of the more powerful methods to induce relaxation and aid recovery. So in this blog I am going to cover all the details of how to use orgasm in health and fitness and why having more orgasms, whether through sex or masturbation, may be one of best and most enjoyable ways we humans have to fight stress.
The effects of eroticism
There are really two components to orgasm. There is the buildup phase or what we could refer to as eroticism. This is the anticipation of stimulation related to thoughts of sex or pleasure before any physical contact is made. Pornography, sex talk, sexting, etc all fall into this category.
This buildup phase is characterized by multiple changes in the brain including increased dopamine activity as well as stress hormone responses. This is similar to when you have a craving. There is a feeling of want/desire (dopamine) combined with a feeling of excitement/stimulation (catecholamines).
You also might think of cortisol here. In women at least, this anticipation phase has an individualized effect. Most women have a fall in cortisol in this stage while others see a rise or no change.
This stage for men is characterized by changes in testosterone and may actually be a performance aid. One study showed brief video clips to men prior to exercise and then measured their testosterone response to the video clip and subsequent strength.
Watching erotic stimuli (i.e. porn) raised testosterone levels and increased squat strength compared to control videos. Both motivational videos and violent/action videos had a similar effect while a sad film had no effect.
Oxytocin. The Cuddle Hormone
As things build and orgasm is achieved, you can think of this as a release. It is almost as if the nervous system discharges and moves into a relaxing state. There are some key differences between men and women here. The two most important hormones of orgasm are oxytocin and prolactin.
Oxytocin should be called the cuddle hormone as its levels rise fast during orgasm and then fall off sharply.Cuddling prolongs the oxytocin effect which induces feelings of contentment, belonging and attachment.
Oxytocin may strongly suppress cortisol and can be seen as an anti-stress hormone. Women may enjoy more of an oxytocin kick then men with orgasm. It also appears that the strength, intensity and subjective feeling of pleasure from an orgasm gives more of an oxytocin kick.
So while masturbation definitely gives off oxytocin, sex with a partner is more potent and good sex with a partner may be even better as far as oxytocin is concerned.
To get the most stress relieving benefits from orgasm it appears the hierarchy goes like this:
masturbation without orgasm < physical sexual contact without orgasm < masturbation with orgasm < physical sexual contact with orgasm < physical sexual contact with orgasm and extended cuddling.
Studies show women may have a much higher oxytocin effect with orgasm compared to men.
Prolactin. The Orgasm Hormone
If there is one hormone we can say is THE hormone of orgasm it is prolactin. This hormone is released in large quantities post-orgasm and can remain elevated for many hours. Men get a much larger prolactin release than women from orgasm.
It looks like prolactin may be responsible for the refractory period in men (the period where erection is lost or reduced and another orgasm cannot be achieved).
Women seem to suffer much less, or not at all, from this refractory period and are more likely to achieve multiple successful orgasms.
Prolactin may also be responsible for the famous “sleepy effect” that mostly impacts men. Studies show the magnitude of prolactin released may correlate with drowsiness and sleep.
There is a mixed and not yet conclusive understanding related to prolactin and its effect on testosterone. It is well know that high sustained levels of prolactin in a man suppress testosterone production. Prolactinomas are fairly common prolactin secreting tumors, so science has a good understanding of some of its negative effects.
With orgasm prolactin levels are elevated in a pulsatile fashion. They spike high with orgasm and then fall again. It is believed that while sustained prolactin has a negative impact on testosterone, transient increases may be helpful for testosterone through possible testosterone receptor priming.
Regardless of its effects, this prolactin effect may be responsible for one of the most healing aspects of orgasm, the ability to aid with sleep. Orgasm through either masturbation or sexual intercourse is perhaps one of the best and most enjoyable treatments for insomnia.
At the Metabolic Effect clinic we frequently recommend sex or masturbation to help those who can’t fall asleep easily and those who wake in the middle of the night feeling anxious or mentally wired.
Some fascinating new research has been done in women who voluntarily stimulated themselves to orgasm while undergoing brain imaging. These studies show the female brain undergoes some pretty powerful changes leading up to and after orgasm.
Some of these changes include increased pain tolerance, less fear, less anxiety and a “trance like focus.” We don’t have a lot of data on men in this regard and so far it looks like the decreased pain tolerance may be female related.
This may have implications for training for some women. Where as men may want to abstain from sex before a workout (best would be to work themselves up with erotic stimuli), women theoretically could benefit from a pre-workout orgasm.
There are no studies I could find in this area, but the mental state orgasm seems to induce in the female brain seems a perfect state for attacking a new PR or blasting through a tough workout.
Obviously sex and sports have historically had a strained relationship. Great athletes like Mohammed Ali and great coaches like George Halas etched the “no sex before a sporting event” in our mind. The problem is that the research really does not support this claim. Most research shows sex before a game or match had no negative impact on performance. These same studies also show no benefit.
Most of these studies were done 12-24 hours prior to an event. It seems common sense would prevail here. It would be exceedingly difficult to control a study looking at orgasm and performance especially orgasm with sex. The vigorousness of the sexual activity and its timing in relationship to an event would seem to play a role. A 3 hour multiple orgasm sexfest the morning of an important match may indeed lead to dehydration and performance issues.
In sports psychology they often talk of the “inverted U” of the mental state. This refers to the idea that there is an optimal state of balanced mental activity. You want to be focused and relaxed, but not so focused you are overly-anxious and not so relaxed you cant at all focus. This is likely highly variable and a potential guide of how to use orgasm. If you are overly amped up the night before an event, an orgasm could calm you and help you sleep. If you are overly relaxed, perhaps an orgasm is the last thing you need.
One study in men found that sex 2 hours before performance tests made them lose some of their focus where the effect disappeared after 10 hours. This may also be a good starting place of how to view orgasm in the context of sports performance. Based on my clinical experience and reading of the research, this is surely highly variable and each athlete may need to experiment with what works best for them
Can you orgasm too much
Frequent orgasm has not been shown to have negative effects although some research hints abstinence may have some value. Men who abstained 7 days after an orgasm saw testosterone levels peak on the 7th day (study here). This could be an interesting training technique to experiment with. An athlete or weight lifter could avoid orgasm through sex or masturbation opting to instead use eroticism to get them worked up during the week. Sex on the weekend post workout could provide some benefit.
Whether you want to obsess that much over such considerations is up to you, but stranger things have been considered in the pursuit of optimal performance.
Cravings and orgasm
While there are no studies I could find evaluating orgasms impact on cravings, based on how the brain responds to eroticism and orgasm, it would make sense that orgasm could potentially aid cravings.
It has been shown that orgasm has a heroin like effect in the brain (see study here). This hints orgasm could be a could surrogate in place of another craving.
Next time you are craving a cheesecake, burger or pizza perhaps “rubbing one out” could take away the craving. Or, if you are man, at least put you to sleep before you start eating everything in sight.
The quick take homes on orgasm
- Recovery: The most beneficial aspect of orgasm is surely the recovery effects. Orgasm through sex or masturbation lowers stress hormones, aids relaxation and can induce sleep. Especially for men it would seem the perfect post-workout activity.
- Pre workout: For women only, orgasm before a workout may be worth exploring. Decreased pain tolerance, “trance like focus” and less fear/anxiety? Sounds like the perfect mental state for attacking a new PR.
- Orgasm hierarchy: If you are using sex for rest, recovery and relaxation it looks like either sex or masturbation works, but the least to best may go like this : masturbation without orgasm < physical sexual contact without orgasm < masturbation with orgasm < physical sexual contact with orgasm < physical sexual contact with orgasm and extended cuddling.
- Abstinence: 7 days of abstinence may raise testosterone in men
- Physical performance: Sex likely does not negatively impact performance but it also does not help.
- Mental performance: Orgasm can relax an overly wired brain, so it may have some use for the pregame jitters. Being sexually stimulated without release can increase mental focus.
- Sleep: Orgasm is a cheap, enjoyable and effective sleep aid especially for men.
- Eroticism: Porn and other erotic stimuli may raise testosterone and increase performance in the gym for men.
- Cravings: a good orgasm used in place of indulging another craving may be a relaxing, effective and far less fattening strategy.
Hope this was helpful. See you at the gym.
***Last Updated 08/03/2016***