Sex Drive And Exercise: What’s The Connection?
When we’re trying to make exercise a habit or starting a new workout program, the benefits we’re chasing often include improved energy, mood, focus, sleep and body composition. It’s not often that a better sex life is included on that list, but maybe it should be, especially in those moments when life is feeling particularly stressful and sexual pleasure slips even further down your list of priorities!
Recent research from Headspace and Peanut has highlighted how common a low libido is, with 75% of women surveyed admitting to experiencing low sex drive. If you haven’t felt any fireworks for a while, it’s definitely not abnormal, nor is it anything to be ashamed of!
But as a woman, regardless of how high or low your sex drive is, it’s common to also wonder what affects your libido. Stress? Diet? Does exercise increase sex drive? Believe it or not, exercise can play a role! Regular exercise can have positive effects on your sex drive, your enjoyment of sex, and your overall sense of wellbeing.
Mayo Clinic even has exercise at the top of their list of healthy lifestyle changes to make if you’re looking to increase your sex drive, due to the way aerobic exercise and strength training can increase your stamina, improve your body image, lift your mood and boost your libido.
Let’s dive into the connection between our libido and regular physical activity.
All systems go
Exercise releases a mix of feel-good hormones such as endorphins, oxytocin and serotonin, which are known to improve mood and reduce stress and symptoms of depression. This can have a positive effect on your sexual wellness, too. Reducing your stress can promote greater relaxation and encourage a higher sex drive - quite simply, improving your mood can be a good way to get you IN the mood (not to mention the increased stamina!).
Research from 2019 on the effects of exercise on sexual function in women found that exercise is associated with changes in metabolic rate, muscle activation and blood flow. Following exercise, improvements in sexual arousal appear to be driven by hormonal changes (that’s those feel-good chemicals) and increases in sympathetic nervous system activity (that’s the part that controls your fight or flight response).
These findings are also supported by The Sexual Psychophysiology Lab at The University of Texas. They highlight that research has demonstrated a strong link between acute exercise and sexual arousal in women, due to increased blood flow to all areas of the body and the activation of the sympathetic nervous system.
Another article from 2020 explained that chronic stress is related to lower levels of sexual arousal, in terms of hormonal factors such as your cortisol levels, as well as psychological factors such as whether you pay attention to sexual cues. If exercise helps reduce your stress, it’s a win-win. It was also noted that regular physical exercise can prevent the development of sexual dysfunction.
Get things flowing
When you move your body, whether it’s cardio, strength training or yoga, your heart rate and circulation immediately increase, meaning increased blood flow around your body. Yes, this is largely to deliver oxygen and nutrients to your muscles as you exercise, but it also increases blood flow throughout your body - including to your genitals.
Adequate blood flow is necessary for sexual arousal and improving your circulation with regular exercise can help! It’s also common for people to experience heightened levels of desire after a workout due to the combination of those feel-good chemicals and boosted circulation.
A hit of confidence
That same piece of 2019 research also highlighted the way that regular exercise can increase sexual wellbeing by promoting positive body image. Feeling great about themselves inside and out is a big reason why many women in the Sweat Community prioritise their workout time.
Another 2017 study on the effects of exercise on women with pre-existing body image concerns found that exercise improved overall body image through an improved self-perception of one’s strength and body composition. Feeling more confident can have a really positive effect on your sexual wellbeing.
Will your sex drive keep increasing the more you exercise?
No - this is where things can get tricky and it becomes important to listen to your body and find a healthy balance. Working out too much can put you at risk of overtraining, where your body is under excessive stress without enough time for recovery.
Alongside the stressed state your body is in, you can experience additional symptoms such as fatigue, low mood, poor sleep and increased muscle soreness - none of which are ideal for boosting your libido or putting intimacy at the forefront of your mind.
Here are some dos and don’ts to help you find balance and promote your own sexual wellbeing, rather than hinder it.
- Find a training style or Sweat program that makes you feel good, confident and energised
- Find a way to move your body every day, but remember this doesn’t always have to be a structured workout. Dancing, walking, playing with your kids or pets, or a quick yoga flow are all great options. One study from 2010 involved 40 females aged 22-55 participating in a yoga camp before completing a sexual function questionnaire, and their scores improved significantly in every area after movement!
- Prioritise your rest and recovery
- Treat your body with love, care and gratitude - it’s the only one you’ve got! Although exercise can help improve your confidence, energy and sex drive, it’s important to treat your body with kindness no matter what shape or size you are, and know that everyone deserves to have a healthy and fulfilling sex life
- Communicate with your partner about how you’re feeling and any lifestyle changes you’re making (or want to make - they may even join you!)
- Overdo it and fall into the trap of believing that more is more. If you’re doing strenuous workouts, remember to prioritise rest days or alternate your training days with low-intensity cardio.
- Complete high-intensity workouts every single day. Even if you feel fit and strong, your body still needs time to recover and this can leave you feeling stressed and exhausted (physically and mentally), having a knock-on effect on your libido.
- Think you need to look a certain way to feel confident in the bedroom or to be deserving of a healthy and pleasurable sex life.
- Neglect your relationships to work out. Leading a healthy lifestyle and making time for the people who bring you joy go hand in hand - whether those connections are intimate or platonic! If you’re just starting out on your fitness journey and are finding it hard to create a balanced schedule, or you have a busy lifestyle and are struggling to juggle everything, take some time to experiment and see what works best for you. Relationships are super important!
Turns out, there is actually a connection between your Sweat life and your sex life! Improved libido definitely isn’t one of the most commonly talked about benefits of regular exercise, but for the sake of every woman’s wellbeing, it’s one we should be talking about more.
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.