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Testosterone and Sex: The Man’s Guide

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The most important, basic needs in life include food, water, sleep and sex.

At our most primal level we have an inbuilt desire for sexual fulfilment. And that means that whilst you might not necessarily need sex to ‘survive’ like we do food and water, it is still an important part of your life.

In this guide we talk about the biological links between your sex life and your testosterone levels.

Are they connected? Can having more sex boost your testosterone?

Let’s find out…


What Is Testosterone?

Testosterone (T) is a steroid hormone produced naturally by your testes. As a naturally-occurring steroid it is responsible for producing, monitoring and regulating both anabolic and androgenic characteristics.

  • Anabolic – Muscle and bone mass, protein synthesis, strength and endurance
  • Androgenic – Stature, personality, how deep your voice is, hair growth
  • Primary sex characteristics –  sperm quality, growth of penis

How is testosterone regulated?

T is part of a complex physiological system called the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis. And whilst there’s a lot to this system, here’s what you really need to know:

The HPG axis is a biochemical transport system that is made up of the hypothalamus and pituitary – both found in the brain, and the testes, found in your gonads. Together they regulate testosterone and ensure that just the right amount enters the bloodstream.

Here’s how it works…

  • When you need more testosterone in your blood your hypothalamus sends a message to the pituitary gland. It does this by sending its own hormone called GnRH which acts like a carrier pigeon.
  • The pituitary gland uses GnRH a bit like an alarm clock – it wakes it up and kicks it into action. This, again is like a pigeon – only it has much further to fly wit the message.
  • The pituitary gland then pumps its own hormone into the bloodstream called luteinizing hormone.
  • Luteinizing hormone travels all the way down to the testes and once it arrives, also works like an alarm clock, waking your specialized Leydig cells into action.
  • The Leydig cells release T into the bloodstream where it can be taken up by various tissues and used accordingly.

Chemical formula for testosterone on a blue background

Testosterone Decreases With Age

Once T enters the bloodstream a large percentage of it binds to a protein called SHBG. A small amount also binds to a second protein called albumin.

Once bound, this testosterone is no longer bioavailable and cant be used by your body.

All in all there’s only around 3% of the T in your blood that isn’t bound to these proteins and is therefore available to your cells.

The difference between total and free testosterone

Your measurement of total testosterone includes both bioavailable and bound T, whereas your free testosterone includes only that small amount with biological value.

Here are normal values of each:

Total Testosterone300-1,000 ng.dL
Free Testosterone5-21 ng.dL

Low T – A common Problem

As you reach the age of thirty your T production naturally begins to decrease – by 1-2% each year. By the age of 65 there’s a 40% or more chance your T levels will be too low.

This is because not only is there a reduction in the signalling from the pituitary gland to the testes, there’s also an increase in SHBG potency. This creates a double-barreled attack on your hormone levels.

And unless you do something about it, it gets worse and worse.

Once testosterone levels fall below 300 ng.dL you are clinically diagnosed with hypogonadism or low T. And that can lead to:

  • Increased belly fat and man boobs
  • Loss of energy, stamina and endurance
  • Reduced muscle and bone mass
  • Increased risk of metabolic and cognitive disease

Does Sex Raise Testosterone?

The short answer is yes. Most definitely.

“Males commonly experience elevations in testosterone levels in response to sexual stimuli”

As enjoyable as a good strength workout in the gym is, there may well be an even more enjoyable way of boosting your androgen levels.

And there’s no surprise that having sex is closely linked to the primary sex hormone.

According to research, men experience a significant increase in T levels when they have sex – by as much as 72% in some cases [1].

In the study, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, a group of men were invited to a live sex club (in the name of science they felt obliged to go of course).

Out of the 44 men, the ones who chose to have sex saw the biggest rise in T levels. The men that decided to just watch also experienced a rise in hormone levels – but only by just over 10%.


Man and woman having sex in bed

What About Abstinence From Sex?

Go back a few years and there were lots of stories about professional coaches making their players and athletes abstain from sex in the run up to competition for fear of it reducing testosterone levels.

The theory was that by keeping T high during a match, event or game that physical endurance and strength would be optimized; and focus, motivation and attention would be maximized.

But it’s not as simple as that.

Avoiding sex doesn’t boost hormone levels

Whether it’s because you’re going through a dry spell or you’re purposely abstaining from sex, you need to know what happens to T levels when you avoid a bedroom workout.

One study showed that men who have a lack of sexual activity in their life show decreased T levels as a result of low central stimulation (the HPA axis work properly) [2].

Managing to get back on the wagon and having more regular sex soon helped the men restore hormone balance though.

But what about the effects of ejaculation on athletic performance?

Worry not, because other studies also show that having sex between 12-2 hours before maximal exercise has no effect on aerobic power at all [3]. It won’t make you less athletic.


Key Point: Abstinence doesn’t make you perform any better on the sports field.


Does Watching Porn Raise Testosterone Levels?

It does. But not as much as sex.

It’s not just the ‘mechanical act’ of sex that boosts hormone levels; it’s the body to body contact too. The release of pheromones and other biochemicals all play their part in signalling your hormones to rise.

Dominance, power and assertiveness all have a big effect on T release. And there’s nothing more powerful than sex.

The few studies that analyzed the effects of porn on testosterone have show modest hormonal increases.

For example, when 12 well-trained men watched a series of ‘short video clips’ involving various subject matters (sadness, humour, motivation, erotic), the film showing sex raised testosterone the most [4].

It also led to an improvement in 3RM too, meaning that watching porn just before your workout can make you stronger!

And in a similar study, 20 young men were asked to watch 5 different films [5]:

  • Sexually explicit
  • Aggressive
  • Stressful
  • Erotic
  • Neutral

After the sexually explicit porn film, the men showed a 35% increase in testosterone, starting to elevate from 15-minutes in and peaking at between 60 and 90 minutes. The men also reported that they felt more powerful, dominant and competitive too.


Man with High Testosterone Watching Laptop

Key Point: Having actual sex is far more potent for boosting hormone levels than masturbation?


What About Low T – Could Sex Boost Hormones?

Low T is strongly associate with a dip in libido, sexual appetite and performance. It’s one of the main reasons why men opt for a testosterone booster supplement.

As we’ve already mentioned, as you age your testosterone levels naturally begin to decrease. And with it comes a loss of both anabolic and androgenic benefits.

But older men who have more sex have been shown to have higher serum androgen numbers.

One study found that “In men over 60 years old, those with higher levels of sexual activity had significantly greater levels of serum testosterone” [5].

And incidentally, the same study showed strong correlations between low T and alcohol drinking, with 4 oz of alcohol per day being a risk factor for diminished androgen levels.


Key Point:  Having sex on a regular basis is a great (and fun) way of elevating your testosterone levels – even if you have low androgen levels to begin with.


Is Sex a Good Calorie Burner?

Other than being fun and raising T levels, sex is also useful when it comes to improving your body composition too.

One of the biggest side effects of low T is the loss of muscle and increase in belly and man boobs.

But sex is a surprisingly potent calorie burner, helping you achieve the calorie deficit needed to shred fat.

One study found that sex uses the equivalent of between 1.3 and 2.8 METS of energy [6]. And whilst the clinical significance and calculations behind METs is quite heavy, it simply means that an average build guy will burn around 200 kcal per hour between the sheets.

And another study suggested that the average calorie expenditure during sex was 101 kcal (4.2 kcal per minute) for men and a little less for women at 69 kcal (3.1 kcal per minute) [7].

The study authors concluded the study by saying that “sexual activity may potentially be considered, at times, as a significant exercise”.

So not only is sex a great way to boost hormones and optimize your testosterone; it’s a great calorie burner too.


Young bodybuilder facing away from camera and performing a double bicep pose

Summary

As the major male hormone, testosterone is responsible for regulating a number of masculine characteristics.

Research shows that sex is a great (and fun) way to elevate your hormone and optimize testosterone levels too. And whilst watching porn also has some hormonal benefits, you just can’t beat a bit of ‘partner time’.


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References

  1. Escasa, MJ et al. Salivary Testosterone Levels in Men at a U.S. Sex Club. Arch Sex Behav. 2011; 40: 921-92
  2. Carosa, E et al. Type V phosphodiesterase inhibitor treatments for erectile dysfunction increase testosterone levels. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2004; 61(3): 382-6
  3. Sztajzel, J et al. Effect of sexual activity on cycle ergometer stress test parameters, on plasmatic testosterone levels and on concentration capacity. A study in high-level male athletes performed in the laboratory. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 200; 40(3): 233-9
  4. Cook, CJ et al. Changes in salivary testosterone concentrations and subsequent voluntary squat performance following the presentation of short video clips. Horm Behav. 2012; 6(1): 17-22
  5. Hellhammer, DH et al. Changes in saliva testosterone after psychological stimulation in men. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 1985; 10(1): 77-81
  6. Hellhammer, DH et al. Changes in saliva testosterone after psychological stimulation in men. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 1985; 10(1): 77-81
  7. Tsitouras, PD et al. Relationship of serum testosterone to sexual activity in healthy elderly men. J Gerontol. 1982; 37(3): 288-93
  8. Ainsworth, BE et al. Compendium of physical activities: an update of activity codes and MET intensities. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000; 32(9 Suppl): S498-504

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