How Exercise Makes Sex Better

Couple Exercising

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We all know that exercise is good for you—it keeps your heart healthy, can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight, and can even add years to your life.

Physical activity gets your heart pumping and improves circulation, helps your body be more limber and flexible, and improves your stamina. These benefits allow you to move through your daily activities with greater ease. But exercise may be able to do something else: make your sex life better.

By participating in exercise, whether it is a single session or a regular practice, you may be able to improve your sex life. Scientists have linked specific outcomes related to exercise with various aspects of sexual function.

And research is ongoing; scientists continue to find new ways that physical activity may help you enjoy healthier and more satisfying sex life. Keep reading to learn about these benefits.

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May Improve Body Image

A big part of sex is feeling good about your body. Studies have confirmed that body image is strongly tied to sexual satisfaction, particularly among women.

Research shows that body image is deeply connected to women's sexual health. Women with a positive body image have a higher sexual function, including sexual desire than those with a negative body image.

Researchers found satisfaction with body shape to be a predictor of sexual function. Perceived attractiveness may be essential when body changes are likely to occur in middle age.

There is less research about body image and sexual satisfaction in men. Still, at least one published report found that negative attitudes about physical appearance are associated with adverse sexual experiences.

Feelings of perceived attractiveness are linked to sexual satisfaction, so one way to improve your sex life may be to work on your body image. Exercise can help you to feel more desirable regardless of changes in appearance.

A study published in 2017 involving 60 young adult women indicated that just one 30-minute exercise session can improve body image in women.

It's important to note, however, that using exercise to try to control your body shape and developing an unhealthy, obsessive relationship with exercise can damage self-esteem and body image. Be aware of how exercise makes you feel about your body. It should feel empowering and rewarding, not punishing.

May Reduce Sexual Dysfunction

A large-scale study involving 3,906 men and 2,264 women investigated how exercise might affect rates of self-reported sexual dysfunction, such as orgasm dissatisfaction and arousal difficulty in women and erectile dysfunction in men. The report found that weekly cardiovascular exercise may provide some preventive benefits.

Results showed that higher levels of cardiovascular exercise in physically active adults were associated with less self-reported sexual dysfunction. The study authors suggested that men and women at risk for sexual dysfunction may benefit by exercising more rigorously, regardless of their current activity level.

May Reduce Erectile Dysfunction

Circulatory problems often cause erectile dysfunction (ED). To have an erection, the penis must swell with blood. Blocked arteries, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular issues can interfere with that process. The American Urological Association cites a lack of exercise as a potential cause of ED.

Authors of a research review published in 2018 developed recommendations regarding physical activity to decrease ED. They suggested that men with the condition complete 40 minutes of supervised moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise four times per week.

As a long-term recommendation, those same researchers wrote that weekly exercise of 160 minutes for six months contributes to decreasing erectile problems in men with ED caused by physical inactivity, obesity, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, and/or cardiovascular diseases.

May Improve Arousal in Women

There is some evidence that exercise can help stimulate both short- and long-term arousal—at least in women. A research review published in 2018 found improvements in physiological sexual arousal following a single bout of exercise.

Scientists suggested that the changes appeared to be driven by increases in sympathetic nervous system activity and hormonal factors. They added that a regular exercise program likely enhances sexual satisfaction indirectly by benefiting cardiovascular health and mood.

Mindfulness exercise may also help improve sexual arousal in women. Research shows that practicing mindfulness-based exercises, focusing on physical sensations, and mental imagery tasks improve subjective sexual arousal.

May Reduce Menopause Symptoms

The decrease in estrogen levels during menopause produces symptoms that can impair quality of life, affecting physical, mental, and sexual health. More specifically, menopause can impact sex by altering the biological systems involved in normal sexual responses.

Authors of a research review published in 2020 found that certain types of exercise were more likely to be helpful during this transitional stage. Exercising the pelvic floor muscles and mind-body exercises may be beneficial in managing menopausal symptoms. There is not enough evidence to know if aerobic exercise and strength training benefits this area.

Some other research suggests physical activity, in general, can help relieve specific issues such as vaginal dryness, hot flushes, and night sweats. Exercise promotes increased blood flow everywhere, including the genitals. In menopause, this can play a role in a better sexual experience.

May Improve Sexual Aging

Studies show that exercise can help preserve sexual health throughout the aging process. This benefit may be especially significant in men.

Researchers from the National Institutes of Aging (NIA) have identified how exercise may help maintain sexual health. They list joint problems as a potential cause of increased sexual issues. The organization suggests that exercise may help to decrease discomfort caused by arthritis.

The NIA also lists heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and depression as causative factors that may contribute to sexual problems. Exercise is known to reduce the risk of these chronic conditions.

A Word From Verywell

If improved health isn’t enough motivation to get you to the gym or out for a run, maybe better sex can also be a motivator. There are many ways that an active lifestyle and a regular exercise program can help you achieve and maintain a satisfying sex life.

But remember that exercise alone may not do the trick if you are experiencing any dysfunction. Communicate openly with your healthcare provider to get individualized advice.

15 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Mark Stibich, PhD
Mark Stibich, PhD, FIDSA, is a behavior change expert with experience helping individuals make lasting lifestyle improvements.