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Abstain or Engage Before the Big Game?

Take a look at the pros and cons of engaging in sexual activity before the big match.

Athletes have only one goal for every game they play – to win! As long as it is within the bounds of the law in sports, they must win at all costs. Hence, the long hours in practice, the focus and determination, and taking the right supplements are all important components of every athlete’s mental and physical preparation for winning. And whether you’re aspiring for the major leagues, playing for a college team, or you’re part of a team in the company’s annual sportsfest, the qualities for a great athlete remain the same.

But there’s one issue that have sports experts, trainers and coaches baffled. What exactly is the role of sex in the triumph or defeat of an athlete in a game? Will having sex the night before motivate the player to give his all, or will it trigger hormonal changes that spell doom for the player? Is it right for coaches and team owners to deprive their athletes of regular sex weeks before a competition? Or are they stuck in the antiquated belief that all energy must be saved for the big game and not spent unnecessarily elsewhere?


Anecdotal evidence has proven them wrong. Take Tiger Woods. For a decade, he was known as the world’s best golfer with 14 major pro tournaments to his name. His last victory-filled year was in 2009, with something like six wins. When the sex scandal broke out in November of that year, and his alleged babes began talking, Tiger’s sexcapades had supposedly been going on for a few years. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out why he was a top player ‘til 2009 until the exposure and why he has been winless since 2010.

Andy Murray, the Scottish tennis player, has openly declared he doesn’t practice sexual abstinence before playing. Look where it got him. He’s currently ranked number three in the world. Although there are no studies to link his sexual indulgence with his girlfriend to his victories on the court, it's safe to conclude that pre-game sex doesn’t lead to defeat.

A Tale of Two Cities

In the 2010 World Cup held in South Africa, soccer players of Brazil and Argentina were allowed to have sex with their wives or girlfriends for the duration of the games. The England team players, on the other hand, were allowed visits after each game, with no overnight stays and no sex. TV monitors in their rooms ensured their compliance to the rule. Post-tournament rankings showed Argentina and Brazil ranked at five and six respectively, and England at 13. The link to sex, or lack of it, and performance is hard to ignore.


But then again, defenders of the pre-sports celibacy policy cite the case of Muhammad Ali - appropriately dubbed “The Greatest.” An icon in boxing, he had only five losses out of 61 matches. It's a well-known fact that Ali would not indulge in sex for up to six weeks before a fight, and the boxer has credited his wins to this practice. Fast forward to the present and there’s Manny Pacquiao, a worthy pretender to Ali’s throne, albeit in the welterweight division. Pacquiao’s camp has announced publicly for the first time that he will be following Muhammad Ali’s sexual abstinence rule for his upcoming match against Juan Marquez.

Pacquiao has won 14 straight victories and has had zero losses since 2005. Previously, Pacquiao was a well-known advocate for pre-fight sex, and this will be the boxer's first booty-free bout. It will be interesting to watch if his winning streak continues after this first open declaration of pre-game restraint from sex.

Abstinence supporters believe that being denied the physical pleasure of sex leads to aggression, which is a desirable quality when the fighter comes face to face with the enemy. Testosterone, a hormone that promotes aggression, is ejaculated during an orgasm; hence, conserving it before a fight by abstaining from sex increases the odds for winning. But what if both players abstained? There are no studies on record showing that Ali’s challengers did the same.

The Science of Abstaining

However, the theory that testosterone levels in male athletes are higher if they practice sexual abstinence was disproved by Emmanuele A. Jannini, a professor of endocrinology at the University of L’Aquila in Italy. He states that sex actually stimulates testosterone production and a three-month celibacy period can diminish supply - specifically to the level of a child.

Untested Variables

Physically, sex isn’t such a demanding activity and does not tire out the athlete if done the night before. A good night’s sleep after the act may even have a positive effect on his alertness and prepare him mentally for the game. Psychologically, sex before a match can also lessen a player’s anxiety. While anxiety is a necessary element that spurs a player to give his best, too much of it can have a negative outcome. Having sex is therefore a good distraction that is sufficient to give the player a certain amount of relaxation by lessening his tension.

But despite these arguments, some opponents to pre-game sex cite that self-control is the reason behind pre-game abstinence. Training, they say, is about disciplining the body to act and react involuntarily in high pressure situations. By depriving themselves of what they want more than anything else, the athletes are sharpening themselves mentally. This is especially true in sports like boxing, where athletes are trained to control their rage. Abstaining from sex keeps their minds focused on the goal and there's less interference from distractions outside of the sports world.  Maintaining this mental edge over the opponent could make the difference between victory and defeat.

On the whole, it all really boils down to each individual’s preference. Studies have debunked the testosterone level theory, which is great news for players and athletes who need the support of a female partner when they are going into a match, but there are no tests or studies that can confirm or deny some of the mental aspects of abstaining from sex. The best advice is to listen to the coach, trainer or manager. They're the ones that build the strategy to win, and sex or abstinence is ultimately a part of their overall plan.

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