Sochi Olympics

02.16.14

Does Sex Really Distract Olympians?

Olympians are reportedly taking their Tinder use to the next level at the Sochi Games. Does having sex hurt their performance?

Newly minted Olympic gold medalist Jamie Anderson struck one for the Victorian virtues of restraint and abstemiousness with her post-victory proclamation that she had deleted the social “dating” app, Tinder, from her smart-phone to “focus on the Olympics.”

Why?

Because the Tinder life, especially in the Olympic village— where use is “next level” per Ms Anderson—was “way too distracting.” Stated simply and carnally: “There are some cuties on there [Tinder].”

Which raises the next logical question —no, not how to register for Tinder (though as a service to our readers, one need only click here to begin living the Olympic life). But rather, did Ms. Anderson, a slopestyle snowboarder, really need to leave sex behind in order to assure a world class ski run?

There surely are a lot of opinions on the subject, generally on the side of less is more.

For example, the Mexican Olympic team was so certain that sex was costing them medals that the brain-trust gave the team saltpeter (aka potassium nitrate) to medically recreate that cold shower experience.

Many other examples of sex-phobia abound.

The world’s semi-scientific literature was summarized in 2000 by Dr Ian Shrier, an epidemiologist in Montreal, in the article, “Does Sex the Night Before Competition Decrease Performance?.

“It’s not the sex that wrecks these guys, it’s staying up all night looking for it.”

In it, he and co-author Samantha McGlone noted that Muhammad Ali did not have sex for six weeks prior to a fight; Marv Levy, head coach of the Buffalo Bills football team, used to leave the wives behind before big games (and is famously the only coach to lose four Super Bowls); Marty Liquori worried that sex made a guy happy and “happy people don’t run a 3:47 second mile.” New York Giants legend Lawrence Taylor claimed he sent prostitutes to an opposing star player’s hotel room the night before the game to wear him down a bit.

To see if there were any science to support either side, Shrier and McGlone systematically reviewed the world’s medical literature up that point.

Their initial dragnet found 31 articles that addressed the issue but only three that actually presented original data, not opinion. All focused on guys only, so we have no data to support or refute Ms. Anderson’s implicit claim.

One study measured grip strength the morning after sex and compared it to the same person’s strength after 6 days of abstinence (no difference). A second study used the same morning-after versus 6-days-without approach to compare other measures of athleticism—balance, lateral movement—and also found no difference at all. The third study measured pulse and oxygenation, among other more physiologic measures, 12 hours post-coitus and found nothing went up or down when compared to how the same people tested when not hustled out of bed.

Their summary was that sex was unlikely to tucker a guy out enough to diminish athletic performance. They note that after all, the amount of calories spent becoming spent— 25 to 50 or the equivalent of walking up two flights of stairs—was simply not enough to affect a world-class athlete.

So next they explored the Liquori-ian aspects—happiness and aggression and everything that lies in between.

They noted that for the anxious, sex the night before might settle things and improve performance. Or not. And for the content, perhaps a good night’s rest is all that’s needed; for such people, if they exist, perhaps sex pre-event is a bad idea. The same either-or was postulated when comparing those who perform best by locking themselves away and concentrating for a long while—for them, no sex might be a good approach. But in contrast, for those who are not so studious and inward-looking, a quick roll in the hay might scatter the cobwebs or at least distract for a while, thereby improving the next day’s performance before a billion TV fans.

Nothing, they concluded, could be demonstrated one way or the other. 

The issue of sex and the single-ish athlete though arises with every Olympics as the number of condoms carpet bombed into the ecosystem called the Olympic Village is announced. For London the number came in at 150,000 for 10,000 athletes. For Sochi, perhaps owing to the sea breeze—and Tinder as well—the number is 100,000 for about 3000 athletes.

Yes that’s 30+ per person, assuming condom use should be measured by couple, not single, that’s 60 condom-worthy events per couple, however they meet, spread across the 17 days of the XXIIth Olympiad—which it should be noted also doubles as the Ist officially anti-gay Olympiad.

To settle the sex issue, perhaps the International Olympic Committee (IOC) should fund studies to examine the effect of sex on performance. The NFL, NBA, MLB, NASCAR, NHL, and countless other groups that spend big time and money policing out other types of performance enhancement might find something interesting to their sport or even their own golf games. Unless they decide to police as well. Or else the results could lead them to endorse abstinence. (If so, good luck with that.)

A better approach though might be to listen to the visionary words of the Old Professor himself, Casey Stengel, who articulated the nub of the problem perfectly when he said: “It’s not the sex that wrecks these guys, it’s staying up all night looking for it.” Which means, Ms Anderson and all you Olympians, that Tinder might be the best thing to ever hit the Olympic Village.