The first time I rocked on top of a fourteener, I spent the descent dreaming of a second kind of mount. (Yes, I’m talking about sex here.) But after downing my celebratory kombucha at the base, climbing on top of my partner was the last thing I wanted.
As personal as it sounds, my lack of interest in sex after my harrowing journey wasn’t just a problem for me. This is a fairly common occurrence among outdoor enthusiasts who train long and hard. Research indicates that too much or too little exercise can make sex unattractive.
The exercise adheres to the “Goldilocks Principle,” says Lyndsey Harper, MD, founder and CEO of Rosy, a sexual health wellness technology platform. As in the famous fairy tale, it’s all about finding the right balance.
Why Outdoor Activity Supports Your Sex Drive
Exercise impacts libido in several ways, according to Harper. For starters, the movement promotes blood circulation throughout the body, she says. “Blood flow to the genitals is the first physiological step of arousal,” says Stephanie Hack, MD, founder of the Lady Parts Doctor podcast. If you have good circulation through your exercise routine, she explains, you’re more likely to have regular blood flow to your genitals.
You can turn to your sport to boost your mental well-being. But those minutes on the bike or the trail do more than relieve your anxiety; they also boost your libido. For most people, stress is the ultimate libido killer, says Rachel Wright, psychotherapist and host of The Wright Conversations podcast. Typically, when you’re feeling tense, your body prioritizes acts of survival — like sleeping, eating, and hydrating — over acts of procreation or pleasure, like sex, she says. Exercise can be a healthy outlet for stress, protecting against the negative consequences of unwanted anxiety. But it also goes beyond that, contributing to your mental health and self-esteem.
“Regular practice of the movement is linked to improved self-image and self-confidence,” says Harper. A 2016 study published in Neuropsychiatric illness and treatment found that physical activity had a direct and positive relationship with participants’ self-esteem. When an individual finds a movement practice that makes them feel more confident, it’s common for them to notice an increased interest in solo, partner and multiplayer play, says Wright.
In general, a lack of physical activity is linked to a decrease in libido, a general term for an individual’s interest in having sex, having sexual intimacy, or achieving orgasm. A 2018 observational study published in the Journal of Health Education and Promotion found that 43% of sedentary women and 31% of sedentary men suffered from sexual dysfunction. The researchers defined this as a loss of libido or arousal as well as erectile dysfunction.
How too many outdoor activities can interfere with your libido
Incorporating a hike, mid-day hike, or mountain bike loop into your routine can improve your libido, especially if the distance you covered this week was from the couch to the fridge. If you release several times a week, your libido will probably increase.
But, respectfully, outdoor athletes are known to be obsessed with their favorite sport. You could probably talk about your last hike longer than it took to get to the top. While spending tons of time doing what you love sounds glorious, there are times when all that outdoor action could hurt your performance in the bedroom.
“You can definitely have too much of a good thing, and that goes for exercise, including outdoor exercise,” Harper says. There are a number of mental, emotional and physical side effects to overdoing it, such as increased pain, loss of performance and libidinal lull.
In a 2017 study published in Medicine and sports in Sports and exercise, researchers have linked regular high-intensity, long-duration workouts with “significant” decreases in male libido. By regular, these researchers mean regular — nearly 60% of the 1,100 study participants exercised for at least 7 hours a week. Additionally, a 2009 study published in the Journal of Endocrinology found that male endurance athletes who trained long and hard had lower sperm counts and testosterone levels, compared to their peers who did not. There does not appear to be a corresponding study conducted with female athletes. However, a 2017 study found that decreasing estrogen levels in women can lower their libido.
“Intense physical training can cause your sex hormone levels to decrease, a condition called hypogonadotropic hypogonadism,” says Hack. Sex hormones (testosterone and estrogen) are libido modulators. When they take a dive, so does your libido, she says. Also, in some cases, if you exercise frequently and don’t rest properly, you can develop overtraining syndrome, Harper says. This condition impacts your endocrine (hormonal) system, nervous system, immune response and sex drive, she says.
However, a low libido in a serious outdoor athlete is not always indicative of a medical condition. “Sometimes all that physical activity tires you out,” says Hack. It’s normal, she says, to come home after a long drive or drive and feel more inclined to Netflix and relax in a literal sense rather than a figurative one.
How to Balance Your Outdoor Sports Aspirations and Your Sex Drive
To achieve maximum performance and pleasure simultaneously, consider these six recommendations for maximizing both your fitness and your libido. Because it’s possible to have a thriving workout routine and sex life at the same time.
1. Be patient with your body
“It’s completely normal for your libido to fluctuate,” says Hack. If you feel frustrated with your current libido state, wait for this lull.
In addition to changes in activity, your relationship status, relationship happiness, alcohol and drug use, and general health can also impact your libido, she says.
2. Consider your priorities
Balance isn’t just the thing you need when climbing a mountain. It’s also what helps you maintain a healthy sex life. “As with everything in life, the key to personal success is balancing your priorities to favor what’s important to you,” says Harper.
Ask yourself: what do I value the most? In some cases, you may need to reduce the time and energy you spend on other activities in order to increase your libido.
3. Recover as much as possible
According to Harper, you may find your libido plummets when you don’t refuel properly. Evolutionarily speaking, when you’re in a calorie deficit, your body is programmed not to crave sex. This is because he interprets the lack of incoming nutrients as a sign that there aren’t enough resources available to support another individual, Harper says.
She recommends working with a sports nutritionist to ensure your diet supports your exercise and sexual health goals.
4. Keep a training diary
You may already be keeping a diary where you document your latest workouts. However, if you also want to monitor your libido, Harper recommends noting your libido changes in the same training diary. “Keeping track of both in one place can help you understand how, if, and when one supports or harms the other,” she says.
5. Communicate with your partner
If you’re serious about your outdoor activities, chances are your partner will know about you. The same way you talk about your training and races, you can talk to them about your changes in sex drive, says Wright.
“After your sharing, invite your partner(s) to continue the conversation with you by asking if there are other things you can do to help them feel loved while you have less sex,” says -she.
6. Talk to a health care provider
If your usual workout routine hasn’t changed, but your sex drive has, it might be time to talk to your doctor. Certain medications, including antidepressants, testosterone blockers, and diuretics, can contribute to a loss of sex drive. Additionally, in rare cases, a decreased libido may be symptomatic of an underlying health condition.
Ultimately, a healthcare provider can help you discern if there are other medical reasons for your low libido, Hack says.
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