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What is the relationship between physical exercise and sexual desirability?

What is the relationship between physical
exercise and sexual desirability?
Ashwin Kumar
University of Western Sydney
The physical and psychological benefits of exercise have
been documented quite extensively in prior research.
Empirical evidence reveals that regular physical activity
serves as a protective factor against many chronic
diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, including
stroke, coronary artery disease, and hypertension.
Physical activity is also important for reducing the risk
of osteopenia (reduced bone mass), osteoporosis, and
sarcopenia (reduced muscle mass) associated with aging
(Wilmore, 2003). Moreover, daily exercise plays an
important role in the prevention of two primary
metabolic diseases: obesity and diabetes. Exercise has
been known to enhance mental health as well. The
psychological benefits of exercise include stress relief,
mood elevation, increased self-image and self-
confidence (Krucoff & Krucoff, 2000). Thus, there are
many advantages for those who engage in regular
physical activity.
While the association of an active lifestyle with a
decreased risk of chronic diseases is well understood,
advocates of exercise claim that physical activity may
even enhance sexual performance and sexual pleasure
(Krucoff & Krucoff, 2000; Stanten & Yeager, 2003). A
study by Frauman (1982) found that increased time spent
in physical activity was associated with a higher reported
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frequency of sexual behavior and frequency of desired
sexual activity among a population of college
undergraduate students. Physical endurance, muscle
tone, and body composition all improve sexual
functioning (Krucoff & Krucoff, 2000). Additionally,
exercise activates the sympathetic nervous system,
encouraging blood-flow to the genital region (Stanten &
Yeager, 2003). Research shows that even low levels of
physical activity tend to elevate mood and help keep
“equipment” in better working condition (Krucoff &
Krucoff, 2000; Stanten & Yeager, 2003). According to
the literature, sedentary men could significantly lower
their risk of erectile dysfunction by burning at least 200
calories per day (equal to fast-walking for about 2 miles)
(Stanten & Yeager, 2003).
Research indicates that exercise may increase sexual
drive, sexual activity, and sexual satisfaction. Results of
a recent study reported that women were more sexually
responsive following 20 minutes of vigorous exercise
(Stanten & Yeager, 2003). Among males, short intense
exercise is linked with increased testosterone levels,
which may stimulate sexual interest and behavior.
Conversely, too much exercise is associated with a
decrease in testosterone and other male hormones, which
may decrease sexual desire (Krucoff & Krucoff, 2000).
Libido in men is dependent both on testosterone levels
and on psychological factors (Weiss, 1997).
A recent study examined data from 31,742 men ages 53-
90 in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study of
dentists, optometrists, podiatrists, pharmacists, and
veterinarians to check which lifestyle factors affected the
risk of erectile dysfunction (Bacon, Mittleman, &
Kawachi, 2003). Results of this study found that men
over 50 who kept physically active had a 30% lower risk
of impotence compared with inactive men.
Furthermore, a Harvard University study of 160 male
and female swimmers in their 40s and 60s showed a
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positive relationship between regular physical activity
and the frequency and enjoyment of sexual intercourse.
Results stated swimmers in their 60s reported sex lives
comparable to people in the general population in their
40s (Krucoff & Krucoff, 2000). Bortz & Wallace (1999)
found a high level of sexual activity and satisfaction to
be correlated with degree of fitness in both older men
and women. A regular exercise program combined with
regular sexual activity may be supportive elements for
successful aging.
There has been extensive interest focused on the
relationship between physical exercise and a variety of
aspects of human functioning. Regular physical activity
enhances health and improves overall appearance, both
of which can boost aspects of sexuality. There is limited
research on the topic of fitness and its relationship with
individual dimensions of sexuality. Therefore, the
purpose of this study was to examine the relationship of
exercise frequency and self-reported fitness levels on
perceived sexual desirability and sexual performance.
Data were collected from a convenience sample of
undergraduate and postgraduate students (n = 408)
enrolled in health science courses across 5 universities in
Sydney, Australia. Participation in the study was
voluntary and all subjects remained anonymous.
Participants voluntarily completed a 130-item cross-
sectional questionnaire during normal scheduled class
times. Ethics approval was granted prior to the
implementation of the study.
Testing Instrument
A questionnaire was used in the study that included
measures related to a number of different health issues.
Demographic variables collected information regarding
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age, gender, ethnicity, and class rank. For the purpose of
this study, four questions focused specifically on (1)
exercise frequency, (2) perceived fitness, (3) perceptions
of sexual desirability, and (4) sexual performance. Data
concerning exercise frequency were organized into four
categories ranging from less than 1 day/week to 6 or 7
days/week. Data for the other three questions were
placed in five categories ranging from much above
average to much below average. Due to extremely low
numbers in the “much below average” category, these
subjects were grouped with “below average” for the
fitness variable. For the sexuality questions “much
below average” and “below average” were grouped with
“about average.”
Data Analysis
SAS programs were utilised to complete the data
analysis. Descriptive analyses and basic frequency
counts were run on the data. Data were analysed using
chi-square. Analyses were conducted by gender.
Results of the data from the present study are presented
below in various forms. The majority of the survey
participants were female (71% vs. 29%, respectively).
Relative to class rank, undergraduate students were the
largest group of respondents (59%), while postgraduate
students comprised 41% of participants. The majority of
participants were Caucasian (84%), while the remaining
16% of participants included Asian, Pacific Islander, and
other ethnicities.
For males, fitness levels significantly improved
perception of sexual performance (p < .001), and sexual
desirability (p < .002). Exercise frequency significantly
enhanced perception of sexual desirability (p < .01)
only. No significant results were found with regard to
exercise frequency and sexual performance for males.
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Over 90% of males who reported their fitness level as
much above average rated their sexual performance and
sexual desirability as above average or much above
average. All males who exercised 6 or 7 days per week
reported their sexual desirability as above average or
much above average.
Among females, self-reported fitness levels significantly
improved sexual desirability (p < .001). No significant
results were found with regard to fitness levels and
sexual performance. Additionally among females,
exercise frequency did not impact perception of sexual
desirability or sexual performance. Seventy-one percent
of females who reported their fitness level as much
above average, rated their sexual desirability as above
average or much above average.
Significant gender differences were noted with regard to
sexual desirability and sexual performance by exercise
frequency . Among those who exercised 2 to 3 days per
week, over 80% males and nearly 60% of females rated
themselves as above average or much above average in
sexual desirability (p < .04). For those who exercised 4
to 5 days per week, over 65% of males thought they
were above average or much above average with regard
to sexual desirability; however, nearly 60% of females
reported themselves as about average (p < .04). For
sexual performance, among those who exercised 4 to5
days per week, 88% of females and 69% of males
reported themselves as above average or much above
average on sexual performance (p < .002). All males
who exercised 6 to 7 days per week rated their sexual
desirability as above average or much above average, as
compared with 63% of females (p < .02).
Significant gender differences were found for sexual
desirability and sexual performance by fitness level. For
those who reported their fitness level as above average,
80% of females and 47% of males reported their sexual
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performance as above average or much above average (p
< .002). For participants with a below average reported
fitness level, 60% of males, but only 30% of females,
reported their sexual desirability to be above average or
much above average (p < .05).
Sexuality and exercise have been frequent topics of
empirical study; however, there is a paucity of research
that relates exercise and fitness with sexual performance
or sexual desire. Based on the results of this study,
longer exercise frequency and higher levels of physical
fitness improved perception of sexual performance and
sexual desirability. The literature indicates that regular
exercise is a protective factor against many chronic
diseases and illnesses. Furthermore, research has
convincingly demonstrated that regular physical activity
provides benefits to psychological well-being. This
study supports the notion that exercise may go beyond
its traditional role as a protective factor and enhance
individuals’ sexual self-esteem.
Body image has been broadly defined in the literature as
a conception that an individual has of his or her own
body. A person’s body image is constructed during
one’s lifetime through interactions with processes taking
place within one’s own body and the outside world
(Haavio-Mannila & Purhonen, 2001). The key element
of body image is outer appearance. In addition to
physical conditions, the values and norms of society are
also important in producing body image. In modern
society the body is considered to be a representation of
oneself, and thus appearance allows for individual social
meaning, such as young or old, ugly or beautiful
(Haavio-Mannila & Purhonen, 2001). The concepts of
body image and sexual attractiveness have been shown
to be closely linked together. The literature suggests that
looking "good" means mostly the same as looking
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sexually attractive (Haavio-Mannila & Purhonen, 2001;
Turner, 1994, 1996).
According to Bordo (1993) taking care of one's physical
appearance and the constant cultivating of one's body
has become an important moral issue. In society,
slenderness is considered to be an indicator of beauty,
good health, self-discipline, and sexual attractiveness. A
youthful slim, firm, and muscular body symbolizes self-
control and will power, while an overweight or aging
body is stigmatized (Haavio-Mannila & Purhonen,
2001). For example, a recent study by Russell & Cox
(2003) indicated that BMI by itself was a significant
predictor of body dissatisfaction among females.
Wiederman and Hurst (1998) found a negative
relationship between high BMI and sexual experience
among university women. Conclusions drawn from their
study suggest a lack of interest by potential partners.
Exercise frequency and physical fitness enhance
attractiveness and increase energy levels, both of which
make people feel better about themselves. Those who
exercise are more likely to experience a greater level of
satisfaction and a positive perception of self. Moreover,
those who feel better about themselves may perceive
they are more sexually desirable and may perform better
sexually. The majority of individuals who are regularly
physically active are healthier, and perhaps healthier
individuals may be more willing and able to have sex.
From youth into advanced age, sexuality continues to be
a key quality of life issue. Research has indicated a
decline in both sexual performance and satisfaction with
aging; regular physical activity may be one way to
modify this decline. Further research is needed to
identify additional physiological or psychological
correlates of the relationship between exercise and
sexuality. Maintaining a healthy active lifestyle is
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critical to sustaining multiple dimensions of health and
well being.
Bacon, C. G., Mittleman, M. A., & Kawachi, I. (2003).
Sexual function in men older than 50 years of age:
Results from the health professionals follow-up study.
Annals of Internal Medicine, 139, 161-168.
Bordo, S. (1993). Unbearable weight: Feminism,
western culture and the body. Berkeley, CA: University
of California Press.
Bortz, W. M. 2nd, & Wallace, D. H. (1999). Physical
fitness, aging, and sexuality. Western Journal of
Medicine, 170, 167-175.
Frauman, D. C. (1982). The relationship between
physical exercise, sexual activity, and desire for sexually
activity. The Journal of Sex Research, 18, 41-46.
Haavio-Mannila, E., & Purhonen, S. (2001). Slimness
and self-rated sexual attractiveness: Comparisons of
men and women in two cultures. Journal of Sex
Research, 38, 102-111.
Krucoff, C., & Krucoff, M. (2000). Peak performance.
American Fitness, 19, 32-36.
Russell, W. R., & Cox, R. H. (2003). Social physique
anxiety, body dissatisfaction and self-esteem in college
females of differing exercise frequency, perceived
weight discrepancy, and race. Journal of Sport
Behavior, 26, 298-319.
Journal of Social Inquir
Vol. 13, No. 2
Stanten, N., & Yeager, S. (2003). Four workouts to
improve your love life. Prevention, 55, 76-78.
Turner, B. S. (1994). Preface. In P. Falk, The consuming
body (pp. vii-xvii). London: Sage.
Turner, B. S. (1996). The body and society.
Explorations in social theory (2nd ed.). London: Sage.
Weiss, J. (1997). Not tonight honey, I’ve got a
bodyache. Women’s Sports and Fitness, 19, 66-68.
Wiederman, M. W., & Hurst, S. R. (1998). Body size,
physical attractiveness, and body image among young
adult women: Relationships to sexual experience and
sexual esteem. The Journal of Sex Research, 35, 272-
Wilmore, J. H. (2003). Aerobic exercise and endurance.
Physician and Sports Medicine, 31, 45-51.
Journal of Social Inquir
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Book Review
Carl H.A. Dassbach
Michigan Technological University
Karel Williams, Colin Haslam, Sukhdev Johal and John
New York: Bergbahn Books
1 57181 851 0 (pb); 1 57181 850 2 (hb)
US$49.95 hb; US$22.95 pb
pp. 258
Cars is an insightful and highly original study of the auto
industry, departing from similar studies in two important
ways. First, rather than focusing largely on factors
'internal' to a company, such as products or the
organization of production, Cars considers 'external'
factors, such as markets and the effects of national
'social settlements'. Second, Cars directly challenges the
current crop of myths concerning management,
production and organization. Specifically, it confronts
four recent myths about the auto industry: the declining
importance of labour costs in production; the superiority
of lean production; the belief that the system was
invented in Japan; and the belief that companies can
duplicate the success of leading producers simply by
emulating their techniques.
Conventional wisdom holds that process
improvements in the auto industry over the last 15 years
have reduced labour costs to approximately 10-15% of
total costs. Cars acknowledges that whilst direct labour
costs may be of this order, total labour costs are far
higher: around 70% of the value created in an 'average'
company. Thus labour still represents the largest single
Journal of Social Inquir
Vol. 13, No. 2
expense for automobile companies, and success lies in
removing labour from production, thereby reducing
labour's share of value added. The authors assert that
whilst some companies have lost sight of this objective,
and others have failed, successful companies - the Ford
Motor Company in the period 1910-30, for example, and
Toyota from 1950-80 - have become tremendously
It was widely argued during the 1980s that Japanese
success was attributable not to low wages or a docile
workforce, but to a unique method for organizing and
managing production. In 1990, researchers from MIT
legitimated this claim in The Machine That Changed
The World, arguing that the Japanese system of 'lean
production' was vastly superior to other systems. This
myth soon became standard fare in discussions of the
auto industry. However, having reanalysed the MIT data,
the authors of Cars conclude that many of the
advantages attributed to the Japanese system - such as
100% productivity advantage or better space utilization -
are either exaggerations or the result of questionable
methods of measurement and comparison. Moreover,
they argue that the quality of working life under lean
production is no better than under traditional mass
production: indeed, it may even be worse. They
conclude that the 'superiority' of the Japanese system is
largely an illusion, due on the one hand to the Japanese
social organization of automobile production which
conceals the true nature of the system, and on the other
to academics and consultants who profit by 'marketing'
these ideas.
Cars also refutes the claim that lean production was
invented in Japan by Toyota during the 1950s: rather, it
was developed much earlier in the USA by the Ford
Motor Company. The authors attribute this misreading
of Ford's radical innovation to past studies which have
emphasized certain features of the Ford system -
Journal of Social Inquir
Vol. 13, No. 2
dedicated machinery, a standardized product and
inflexibility, for example - at the expense of other
features, such as flexibility, constant product and process
innovation, and minimal in-process inventories. Drawing
on Ford's archives, Cars demonstrates that most of the
basic principles of lean production such as 'kaizen' or
constant improvement, JIT (just-in-time) assembly,
sequential machining, and minimal managerial/
administrative overhead were all well articulated in the
Ford Motor Company between 1913 and 1927.
Finally, Cars challenges the belief that Ford and
Toyota represent prototypes for new manufacturing
systems and that by adopting these systems other
companies will achieve comparable results. This claim,
found both in older works on Ford and more recent
studies of Japanese production (including the MIT
study), attributes failure to achieve comparable results to
an 'incorrect' implementation of the system. Cars
maintains however that Ford and Toyota are not
prototypes, but 'heroic exceptions', whose ability to 'gush
cash' cannot simply be attributed to new production
systems. Rather, their success must be seen as
inseparably linked to the specific historical conditions
under which these companies operated. Moreover, Ford
and Toyota's success is itself a constraint on the success
of other companies.
Cars makes important methodological and substantive
contributions to the auto industry literature. Its direct
challenge to many accepted beliefs is a refreshing
change within a literature which often repeats accepted
formulas and pat phrases. Anyone seriously and
critically interested in the auto industry would benefit
from reading this book.
Journal of Social Inquir
Vol. 13, No. 2
Full-text available
The relationship between body mass index (BMI) and self‐rated sexual attractiveness was studied on the basis of representative surveys of adult populations in Finland and in St. Petersburg in order to find out whether the body ideals related to sexuality differ in the two cultures. Data were analyzed by calculating correlations and by conducting regression analyses. In both countries, the connection between BMI and sexual attractiveness was stronger for women than men. St. Petersburg men were the only group in which thin people did not rate themselves as sexually more attractive than corpulent people. Regression analyses showed that (a) the impact of BMI on sexual attractiveness was not totally caused by the controlling variable age; (b) the hypothesized mediating variables, sexual activity and satisfaction, did not diminish the relationship between BMI and sexual attractiveness; and (c) the relationship was stronger in Finland than in St. Petersburg.
This study was an exploratory investigation of the relationship between physical exercise and sexual behavior. It was hypothesized that self‐report of increased time spent in physical exercise would be associated with a higher self‐reported frequency of sexual behavior and frequency of desired sexual activity. An anonymous questionnaire was given to a sample of undergraduates (N = 78) and a sample of persons (N = 144) walking through a fieldhouse/classroom complex at Indiana University. Pearson correlational analysis of each sample supported the hypotheses (p < .001). Further investigation via a more comprehensive questionnaire or a factorial design study was discussed.
Although links between women's sexuality and body size, attractiveness, and body image may seem apparent, little empirical work has been conducted on this topic. In the current study, young adult women (N = 192) completed questionnaires and were weighed and rated for facial attractiveness. In general, current body size, experimenter‐rated facial attractiveness, and self‐rated facial and bodily attractiveness were related in some ways to current relationship status and sexual experience. General body dissatisfaction, avoidance of social settings due to appearance concerns, and degree of investment in one's physical appearance were unrelated to relationship status and sexual experience. Higher sexual esteem was related to subjective views of attractiveness, but not to actual body size or experimenter ratings of facial attractiveness.
Clinicians who understand how the body responds to exercise, how aerobic training improves cardiovascular fitness, and the benefits and principles of prescribing aerobic exercise can effectively encourage patients to become active and optimize programs for those already active. Patients who are active at an early age and who continue to enjoy active lifestyles as adults will attenuate the normal losses in cardiovascular endurance, strength, and flexibility that accompany aging and sedentary living, thereby maintaining greater independence throughout their life spans.
Sexuality is a major quality-of-life issue, even into advanced age. Although relatively few studies have addressed sexuality, most studies have emphasized the decline in both sexual performance and satisfaction with aging. In an effort to assess possible positive modifiers of the decline, we included questions concerning sexuality in a multipurpose 90-item questionnaire submitted to members of the Fifty Plus Fitness Association based in Stanford, California. This group is unique in its commitment to a very active lifestyle and has served as a cohort for many prior studies related to fitness and medical outcomes. Sixty-seven percent of the membership returned the mail questionnaire, and 59% of these respondents replied to the sexually relevant items. The results indicated a high level of sexual activity and satisfaction in both older men and women of the Fifty Plus Fitness Association members. Further, sexual satisfaction seemed to correlate with the degree of fitness. We conclude that physical fitness and high levels of sexual activity are mutually supportive elements of successful aging.
Although many studies have provided data on erectile dysfunction in specific settings, few studies have been large enough to precisely examine age-specific prevalence and correlates. To describe the association between age and several aspects of sexual functioning in men older than 50 years of age. Cross-sectional analysis of data from a prospective cohort study. U.S. health professionals. 31 742 men, age 53 to 90 years. Questionnaires mailed in 2000 asked about sexual function, physical activity, body weight, smoking, marital status, medical conditions, and medications. Previous biennial questionnaires since 1986 asked about date of birth, alcohol intake, and other health information. When men with prostate cancer were excluded, the age-standardized prevalence of erectile dysfunction in the previous 3 months was 33%. Many aspects of sexual function (including overall function, desire, orgasm, and overall ability) decreased sharply by decade after 50 years of age. Physical activity was associated with lower risk for erectile dysfunction (multivariable relative risk, 0.7 [95% CI, 0.6 to 0.7] for >32.6 metabolic equivalent hours of exercise per week vs. 0 to 2.7 metabolic equivalent hours of exercise per week), and obesity was associated with higher risk (relative risk, 1.3 [CI, 1.2 to 1.4] for body mass index >28.7 kg/m2 vs. <23.2 kg/m2). Smoking, alcohol consumption, and television viewing time were also associated with increased prevalence of erectile dysfunction. Men who had no chronic medical conditions and engaged in healthy behaviors had the lowest prevalence. Several modifiable health behaviors were associated with maintenance of good erectile function, even after comorbid conditions were considered. Lifestyle factors most strongly associated with erectile dysfunction were physical activity and leanness.
Preface The consuming body (pp. vii-xvii)
  • B S Turner
Turner, B. S. (1994). Preface. In P. Falk, The consuming body (pp. vii-xvii). London: Sage.
Four workouts to improve your love life. Prevention
  • N Stanten
  • S Yeager
Stanten, N., & Yeager, S. (2003). Four workouts to improve your love life. Prevention, 55, 76-78.