Does a Big Game Tomorrow Mean No Sex Tonight?

As we witness the remarkable feats of athletic performance beamed back from the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, the time may be right to revisit that familiar truism that abstaining from sex improves athletic performance.

Boxing is one sport in which this strategy seems to be commonly practiced. The idea behind sexual abstinence before a match is that sexual release reduces aggression, so going without sex will make the fighter meaner and, thus, more likely to win in the ring. Football is another sport in which this strategy is familiar. Last month's Super Bowl is an excellent example. According to media reports, Pittsburgh Steeler players were ordered not to spend the night before the game with their wives or girlfriends. This strategy is purported to enhance a player's "game face," which translates into conserving strength and energy and maintaining focus. Even non-contact sports adhere to the abstinence mantra. The Canadian Olympic swim team was recently asked to take a pledge of abstinence before competition.

Belief in the value of sexual abstinence to athletic performance may be widespread, but is there any objective evidence to support it? No -- what's more, it turns out, research suggests that the opposite is actually true (though the evidence of this is not conclusive). Studies of the sex-sport connection support the idea that sexual union can actually help athletic performance by increasing testosterone levels, relaxing the athlete, and increasing the pain threshold.

Group averages may not provide a complete answer to the question of what to do the night before the big game. For some people abstinence may actually help them focus, while for others it may contribute to distraction. Each athlete is a unique person and probably should find out for himself or herself what works best.