Could sexual activity become part of a healthy lifestyle?
Health professionals are starting to recognize that sexual activity in humans could be an important aspect on their overall health and quality of life since this activity is practiced regularly by most individuals throughout their lifetime. However, due to the intimate and sensitive nature of sexuality, few studies have investigated if sexual activity could be considered as an exercise which involves a significant amount of energy expenditure.
Researchers from the University of Quebec, Montreal, set out to determine energy expenditure in kilocalories (kcal) during sexual activity in young healthy couples in their natural environment and compare it to a session of endurance exercise. The researchers believe that no study has ever investigated the amount of energy expenditure in kilocalories (kcal) during sexual activity and has compared this energy expenditure, using the same subjects, to a regular exercise which could provide valuable clinical information to health professionals.
For this study 21 heterosexual couples from the Montreal region were recruited between September 2012 to April 2013. Volunteers were recruited from the University of Quebec, Montreal and from the Montreal population. To be included in the study, participants had to meet the following criteria: 1) aged between 18-35 years old, 2) born in the province of Quebec and francophone, 3) Caucasian, 4) non-sedentary (>2 hours a week of structured exercise), 5) no sexual dysfunctions, 6) be sexually active (at least one sexual activity per week), 7) in a loving, monogamous and stable relationship with their partner for a duration between 6 and 24 months, and 8) the use of oral contraception for women.
All participants were free from cardiovascular disease, diabetes and any orthopedic limitations. Body weight was measured using an electronic scale. Body mass index was calculated.
All participants completed one endurance exercise session at the start of the study which consisted of a 5 min walking to warm up which was then followed by 30 minutes on a treadmill 65 % of maximal heart rate, which represents a moderate intensity and ended with a 5 min cool down, The components of the endurance exercise were based on the recommendations of the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association which recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days weekly. The researchers chose a form of exercise that can be regularly done by the general population and used as a control.
Sexual activity was defined as the onset of foreplay, intercourse and at least one orgasm by either the man or woman and ended at the couple’s discretion. During a one month period, couples were instructed to perform one sexual activity per week in their homes. Thus, all couples had performed a total of 4 sexual activities. The couples were instructed to perform their usual sexual activities and not to use drugs, alcohol or medication for erectile dysfunction such as Viagra.
All participants completed a questionnaire after each sexual activity, such as “What was your perception of energy expended after sexual activity”? The participants had a choice of three categories (i.e. low, medium or high) to choose from for the first six questions. As for the seventh question, participants were asked to write down a number.
All participants wore a portable mini SenseWear armband which was placed on the upper left arm and was to be worn during sexual activity and exercise sessions.
The results showed most participants (98%) felt sex was more pleasant compared to the treadmill and 81% reported a high level of personal pleasure.
Average energy expenditure during sexual activity was 101 kcal or 4.2 kcal/min in men and 69 kcal or 3.1 kcal/min in women. Energy expenditure from sexual activity was significantly higher in men compared to women. Those participants that had the longest sexual activity could burn more calories during sex, men 306 and women 276 calories, compared to running on a treadmill.
In their conclusion the researchers write “The present study indicates that energy expenditure during sexual activity appears to be approximately 85 kCal or 3.6 kCal/min and seems to be performed at a moderate intensity (5.8 METS) in young healthy men and women. These results suggest that sexual activity may potentially be considered, at times, as a significant exercise.”
They add “Thus, health professionals may want to consider sexual activity as part of their planning of intervention programs for a healthy lifestyle. It should be noted that no differences between men and women were observed for perception of energy expenditure, effort, fatigue, appreciation and pleasure.”
There were several limitations to this study including that the study was comprised of sexually active young healthy men and women, therefore, their findings are limited to that population.
The study appears in PLOS ONE.