Doctors explain the four benefits and the one side effect.

Elizabeth Harris
Nov 20, 2020 @ 9:30 am
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By now you probably know that regular exercise is good for your health. What you might not know is that it’s good for your sexual health, too.

A host of new research has revealed how exercise impacts your sexual well-being. It turns out that regular exercise can boost your libido, improve your sex life, and reduce the chances of experiencing pain during sex. The best part is it only takes about 30 minutes of exercise three times a week to feel the effects.

To find out more, HelloGiggles talked to Dr. Cindy Meston, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Texas and director of the Female Sexual Psychophysiology Lab, to find out exactly how exercise impacts your libido and how much exercise you need to experience the full range of benefits.

Read on to find out what happens to your libido when you start exercising regularly.

You get turned on easier

Research shows that exercise has an immediate effect on your libido. According to Dr. Meston, just 20 minutes of cardio exercise—like running, swimming or cycling—gets your body prepped for sex. 

Dr. Meston explains that blood flow to the genitals can increase by as much as 150% immediately after exercise. This makes a big difference to your levels of arousal and lubrication, helping your body get ready for action. And with so much blood flowing to your genitals, you’re likely to feel an increase in desire and attraction and generally feel more turned on. You can expect your sex drive to peak around 15 to 30 minutes after intense exercise, according to Dr. Meston. 

Exercise doesn’t just affect one area of the body, either. Dr. Meston’s research has shown that a combination of different factors add up to the positive impact of exercise on your libido. These changes happen immediately after exercise and also in the long term, once you start working out regularly.

Studies have linked yoga and Pilates, in particular, to improved sexual well-being. Women who took part in the research reported more desire, arousal, lubrication, and orgasms after doing 60 minutes of Pilates twice a week for 12 weeks. They also reported less pain during sex and more sexual satisfaction after taking part in regular Pilates sessions.

Even going out for a walk can make a difference in your sex life. A 2020 study showed that eight-plus weeks of walking improved the sexual well-being of women with arthritis.

You have more happy hormones

According to Dr. Meston, a range of hormonal changes also happen when you exercise. Exercise can boost your cortisol, estrogen, prolactin, oxytocin, and testosterone levels—and all those hormones play a part in your sex life. 

“Testosterone has been shown to play an important role in sexual desire in both men and women, and oxytocin is the feel-good hormone that is released during orgasm,” explains Dr. Meston.

Exercise also increases serotonin levels in the body. This hormone can minimize feelings of tension and promote relaxation, helping to lift your mood and make you feel happier. By reducing tension in the body, serotonin also increases feelings of desire and all-around well-being, giving a big boost to your libido.

Your body gets ready for sex

Regular exercise can change your body in a big way. Using your muscles frequently helps to improve your circulation and cardiovascular health. It strengthens your heart, increasing the amount of blood your heart moves with each pump and upping blood flow around the body. 

Cardiovascular health and circulation are especially important for men’s sexual health, as good blood flow is needed to get things going. As Dr. Emmanuele A. Jannini, a professor of Endocrinology and Sexual Medicine at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, explains, “Physical activity in men strongly improves the ability to obtain and maintain an erection.” Couples workouts, anyone?

For women, exercise can help with lubrication both before and during sex. By exercising regularly, women may be less likely to experience sexual health problems. 

Dr. Jannini explains that almost four out of five women who didn’t exercise reported sexual dysfunction compared to women who exercised regularly. This is really important because it shows that exercise could reduce the chance of experiencing pain during sex and improve sexual satisfaction.

Your self-confidence gets a boost

As well as the physical effects of exercise on your body, there are long-term benefits for your self-confidence, too. “Exercise positively impacts body image, mood, and improves energy and flexibility,” says Dr. Meston, all of which play a big role in sexual well-being. 

“Studies have shown that individuals who exercise regularly have more positive body images than those who do not,” says Dr. Meston. This matters because research shows that people with negative body image were less likely to want to have sex compared to people with good self-esteem, who reported more sexual desire. 

When you’re more confident about your body during sex, it’s easier to focus on pleasure rather than being distracted by how your body looks or what your partner is thinking about you. Dr. Meston points out that this has nothing to do with BMI, however. It’s all about how you feel in your own body.

You might miss out if you become body-obsessed

There is a downside to exercising too much. According to Dr. Meston, “Some people become obsessed or addicted to exercise to such a degree that they lose perspective on what is healthy and what actually looks sexually attractive. This can negatively impact their self-esteem and body image.” 

Dr. Jannini also points out that stress can impact how your body responds to sex, making it harder for you to be aroused. If you’re too preoccupied with your body image, you may not feel comfortable having sex and struggle to relax.

As with most things, finding a healthy balance is really important.

If you want to start exercising more frequently, try going for a walk or doing something you love, like dancing or jumping rope. It could have a big impact on your libido and your overall sexual well-being!