Sex and Boxing

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Female MMA sensation, Rhonda Rousey recently made some comments on a couple of talk shows, saying that she tries to have as much sex as possible before she fights.  That not only got the attention of male MMA fans around the world, but it also reignited a topic that has been debated by old boxing trainers and their fighters for decades.  When it comes to sex in training or leading up to a fight, does sex and boxing mix?

For decades, trainers have forbid their fighters from engaging in any type of sexual activity before a fight, believing that it would “sap” their energy, leave them weak and vulnerable and would rob them of their competitive edge.  Muhammad Ali was rumored to abstain from any type of sexual activity for as much as six-eight weeks leading up to a fight because he claimed that, “It (abstaining) makes a warrior out of you.”  Most old coaches believe that sex before a fight served as an unnecessary distraction and provided an unwanted release from the beneficial pent up rage.  They believed that carrying the anger that sex deprivation caused would be lost and the ferocity a fighter would otherwise carry into the ring with them, would be “released.” That sounds legitimate enough, but is that only because it’s been handed down from generations of coaching lore?  Even Mickey Goldstein, Rocky Balboa’s crusty old boxing trainer growled “Women weaken legs!” And if Mickey said it, then it must be true, right.   Or is it?  Does sex before a fight take away from a fighter’s natural stamina and mental edge?   Can sex cause mental or physical weakness?  Is the entire belief based on any real, proven scientific fact at all or is it just an outdated, hand-me-down from old boxing guys who still think that fighters were tougher back then?

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In order to come to any kind of conclusion at all, you really need to consider two components; the physical affects and mental aspect.  If you address the facts from a physical standpoint first, scientifically speaking, sex before competition may actually improve performance.  In both men and women, sexual intercourse increases testosterone levels.  Testosterone and a host of other chemicals produced in the brain, act as stimulants and spike during sexual activity. Testosterone is also the main chemical that is released at times of intense aggression, so an increase in testosterone levels actually helps fuel the desire to compete and win.

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Having said that, like anything that is seemingly good for you, there is also a downside when it comes to indulging in it to excess.  If sexual activity provides a chemical release that you can use to your advantage, at what point is too much of a good thing, a bad thing?  Even the most physically fit athlete has a limit to his energy reserves so once that “lovemaking session” turns from an R rating to XXX, it might be time to roll over and get some shut eye.  An invigorating lovemaking session may have vastly different physical requirements than undertaking a sexual marathon does.  The first can serve to relieve a fighter from pre-performance stress, while the second is going to be more physically taxing.  Not only do you have to consider the actual activity itself, you should also factor-in the circumstances surrounding it.  As far as it being detrimental, former major league baseball outfielder and manager, Casey Stengel said, “It’s not the sex the night before, it’s staying up all night looking for it.”  If an athlete is engaging in a sexual hunt, where he’s seeking out a partner, partying and staying out all night trying to make a big score, that’s an entirely different situation than spending some alone time with your wife.  The experience of a new partner adds a whole new level of stress to the situation.  It requires a much greater amount of physical and mental involvement and can carry the additional stress of feeling the need to perform.  It lacks the security and comfort of a relationship that has already been established with a wife or long-time girlfriend so, even then, there are other variables to weigh into the overall circumstance.

There is also another side to the debate.  The flip side centers less around the physical effects of sex before competition and more on the mental ramifications.  Some trainers believe that having sex before a fight can have a diminishing impact on their fighter’s performance because it takes away his motivation to succeed and achieve.  The human male has a natural drive to reproduce, which is directly related to conquering.  “Winning” (prior to the real battle) can put a damper on his competitive spirit, because through sexual conquest he has already experienced the reward of success.  It robs him of his hunger and he loses the desire to fight for that feeling.

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Then there is also the idea that if an athlete simply believes that the act will somehow inhibit his performance, weaken his legs or rob him of pent up aggression, then it can also be psychologically detrimental.  The myth that sex weakens legs may be so engrained in the athlete’s psyche that he can’t overcome the manifestation of it, even if it is only in his head.  And let’s face it; the last thing a boxer needs to be thinking about when he enters the ring or begins to tire is whether or not his sexual escapades will take their toll.  A boxer may be better off abstaining if he has any questions or concerns about its impact on his stamina or performance.

The age old debate of whether sex and boxing can co-exist can get complex, but the answer may be simple.    Just as one approach to training doesn’t work the same for all fighters, one diet doesn’t have the same results on every athlete’s body and the same workout routine doesn’t produce the same type of fighter, sex in training may be fine for some fighters and not for others.  It’s been scientifically proven that the chemicals that sexual activity produces are directly parallel to those same chemicals released when combat ensues.  On the other hand, happy people aren’t as anxious to punch someone else in the nose, compared to someone who is sexually deprived, sore from constant training and deeply rooted in the “hurt business”.  There may always be two schools of thought about this controversial topic and it may ultimately have to be left up to personal preference.  The overall message may be just to think twice before jumping between the sheets if you think it will affect how you will perform when you step between the ropes.  Doing without may be small price to pay for entering the ring without a doubt.

Doug Ward is the President and Trainer for the Underground Boxing Company.