“Don’t do nothing for your wife,” Rex Ryan told his New York Jets in preparation for this Sunday’s game against rival New England Patriots. Naturally, that was interpreted to mean "rest up and don't bang your wife/special lady friend/secret lover, etc."
Sports bloggers everywhere were writing stories like Rex Ryan tells NY Jets players no messing around before Patriots game No-sex Rex: Did Ryan ban Jets players from fooling around?.
Okay, so actually it turns out Ryan wasn’t telling his players to avoid the sexy sex. The notoriously boisterous coach was actually talking about things like taking out the trash or driving the kids to practice. But that’s really effing boring, so let’s still talk about sex, eh?
The question of sex the night before a big game has actually been a hot topic in pro sports for decades. Muhammad Ali was said to have gone two months without sex before a big fight. When Marv Levy was head coach of the Buffalo Bills, he mandated that players stay away from their wives before the team’s four Super Bowl performances (they lost all four of them). On the flip side, as coach of the Argentina Men’s National Soccer Team during the 2010 World Cup, Diego Maradona encouraged his players to get it on (The Albicelestes got slaughtered 4-0 by Germany in the quarterfinals).
On the abstinence side of the argument: sex tires you, raises your heart rate, and for men, draws testosterone from the body, thereby decreasing available stored energy and aggression the next day during competition. Also, sex tends to correlate with a lack of sleep, which will again lead to decreased energy storage during competition. Proponents of sex the night before competition say that it can loosen you up, make you happier and more confident.
So, what’s the right answer? Does sex tire an athlete out or does it boost their confidence?
Well, it turns out that more or less, having sex the night before competition in general doesn’t matter physiologically. According to a study by Dr. Ian Schrier at McGill University, the notion that sex tires a person out is wrong. “Considering that normal sexual intercourse between married partners expends only 25–50 calories (the energy equivalent of walking up two flights of stairs), it is doubtful that sex the previous night would affect laboratory physiological performance tests,” the study said. In fact, sexual activity can actually be beneficial for women. Barry Komisaruk, a psychology professor at Rutgers University found that for women, sex releases a neuropeptide that increases muscle pain tolerance and prevents injuries for days at a time (to which point, !!!!!).
The psychological factor, however, is trickier and varies for each individual. Schrier’s research hypothesized that sex may be beneficial psychologically in a U-curve (which is in essence a reverse bell curve), meaning that a few people will benefit to extremes of positive and negative, and the majority of the population will be unaffected; it all depends on the individual.
"If athletes are too anxious and restless the night before an event, then sex may be a relaxing distraction," Shrier said in the study. "If they are already relaxed or, like some athletes, have little interest in sex the night before a big competition, then a good night's sleep is all they need."
So, final answer: physiologically it's safe to say there's no negative impact, and can even be positive for women. So if all you're concerned with is muscle tension, fatigue and endocrine levels, go ahead and get it on. Psychologically, however, the impact is less clear, so athletes should proceed depending on how sex impacts their anxiety, stress levels, confidence and mental preparedness. So, trial and error?