We all know that exercise is good for you—it keeps your heart healthy, can help you to reach and maintain a healthy weight, and can even add years to your life. But exercise may be able to do something else—it can make your sex life better.
By participating in exercise—whether it is a single session or a regular practice—you may be able to improve your sex life. Researchers have found several positive sex-related benefits of physical activity.
How Exercise Supports a Healthy Sex Life
There are many different general health benefits of exercise that can play a role in improving your sex life. Researchers have been investigating the relationship for years. But exactly how does exercise impact your bedroom behavior?
There are some general assumptions regarding exercise that may play a role. For example, exercise gets your heart pumping and improves circulation. Exercise helps your body move with greater ease so that you are more limber and flexible. And exercise can help to improve your stamina. These benefits help you to move through all of your daily activities with greater ease—and that can include sexual activity.
But there are specific outcomes related to exercise that scientists have linked to different aspects of sexual function. And the good news is that research is ongoing. Scientists continue to find new ways that a boost in physical activity may help you enjoy a healthier and more satisfying sex life.
Improved Sense of Attractiveness
A big part of sex is feeling sexy. In fact, studies have confirmed that body image is strongly tied to sexual satisfaction, particularly in women.
Authors of a 2010 study wrote that “several aspects of body image, including weight concern, physical condition, sexual attractiveness, and thoughts about the body during sexual activity predict sexual satisfaction in women.” The relationship between perceived attractiveness and satisfaction may be especially important in middle-aged women when body changes are likely to occur.
There is less research about body image and sexual satisfaction in men, but at least one published report found that negative attitudes about physical appearance are associated with negative sexual experiences.
Feelings of perceived attractiveness are linked to sexual satisfaction, so one way to improve your sex life may be to work on your body image. Several studies have found that exercise can help you to feel more desirable.
For example, a study conducted in 2004 on 408 college students found that more physically fit men and women rated their own sexual desirability higher than less active men and women the same age. In fact, 80% of men and 60% of women who exercised two to three times weekly rated their own sexual desirability as above average. As the number of days of exercise per week increased, so did the ratings of sexual desirability.
More recent studies have supported these findings. In fact, a study published in 2017 involving 60 young adult women indicated that just a short 30-minute session can improve body image in women.
May Prevent Sexual Dysfunction
A large-scale study involving 3,906 men and 2,264 women investigated how exercise might affect rates of self-reported sexual dysfunction. Types of dysfunction included orgasm dissatisfaction and arousal difficulty in women and erectile dysfunction in men. The report was published in a 2019 issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine and found that weekly cardiovascular exercise may provide some preventive benefits.
Study authors found that higher levels of cardiovascular exercise in physically active adults were associated with less self-reported erectile dysfunction in men and less sexual dysfunction in women. Study authors suggested that men and women at risk for sexual dysfunction may benefit by exercising more rigorously, regardless of their current activity level.
May Reduce Erectile Dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is often caused by circulatory problems. In order to have an erection, the penis must swell with blood. Blocked arteries, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular issues can interfere with that process. The American Urological Association cites a lack of exercise as a potential cause of ED.
A large study published in 2003 involved 31,742 men, aged 53 to 90 years. Researchers found that those who were physically active reported better erections and a 30% lower risk of impotence than men who were inactive.
A 2011 study suggested specifically that aerobic training may be beneficial for those with ED.
Authors of a research review published in 2018 developed recommendations regarding physical activity to decrease ED. They suggested that men with the condition should complete 40 minutes of supervised moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise four times per week.
As a long-term recommendation, those same researchers wrote that weekly exercise of 160 minutes for six months contributes to decreasing erectile problems in men with ED caused by physical inactivity, obesity, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, and/or cardiovascular diseases.
May Help Stimulate Arousal in Women
There is some evidence that exercise can help stimulate both short- and long-term arousal—at least in women. A research review published in 2018 found that there were improvements in physiological sexual arousal following a single bout of exercise.
Scientists suggested that the changes appeared to be driven by increases in sympathetic nervous system activity and hormonal factors. They added that a program of regular exercise likely enhances sexual satisfaction indirectly by benefiting cardiovascular health and mood.
May Reduce Menopausal Symptoms in Women
Researchers have noted that the decrease in estrogen levels during menopause produces symptoms that can impair a woman’s quality of life, affecting her physical, mental, and sexual health. More specifically, menopause can impact sex by altering the biological systems involved in normal sexual response.
Authors of a research review published in 2020 found that certain types of exercise were more likely to be helpful during this transitional stage. They noted that exercising the pelvic floor muscles and mind-body exercises may be helpful in managing menopausal symptoms. They also concluded that there is not enough evidence to know if aerobic exercise and strength training provides any real benefit in this area.
There is some other research that suggests physical activity in general can help relieve certain issues such as vaginal dryness, hot flushes, or night sweats. Exercise promotes an increased blood flow everywhere including the genitals. In menopausal women this can play a role in preventing or managing dryness for a better sexual experience.
May Improve Sexual Aging
There are several studies showing that exercise can help preserve sexual health throughout the aging process, especially in men.
For example, the authors of a 2008 study found that a moderate-intensity aerobic exercise program performed for a year increased certain hormone levels in sedentary men aged 40 to 75 years old. One of the hormones, dihydrotestosterone, has been identified as a hormonal predictor of orgasm frequency.
Researchers from the National Institutes of Aging (NIA) have also identified ways in which exercise may help maintain sexual health during the aging process. They list joint problems as a potential cause of an increase in sexual problems. The organization suggests that exercise may help to decrease discomfort caused by arthritis.
The NIA also lists heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and depression as causative factors that may contribute to sexual problems. Exercise is known to reduce your risk of these chronic conditions.
If improved health isn’t enough motivation to get you to the gym or out for a run, maybe better sex can also be a motivator. There are many ways that an active lifestyle and a regular program of exercise can help you achieve and maintain a satisfying sex life. But remember that exercise alone may not do the trick if you are experiencing any kind of dysfunction. Communicate openly with your healthcare provider to get individualized advice.