Today, the mysteries of abstaining from sex before a fight can come to an abrupt conclusion. You can actually kick those mysteries down a flight of stairs and lock a metaphorical door atop the cellar. Feed them once a week, just in case another doctor comes out and argues the contrary, but until then, keep them as your prisoner and dance joyously in your living room like the guy from Silence of the Lambs. Please don’t hurt them, though. They’ve helped and hurt fighters for years, and you’re a fan of fighting. Without those mysteries looming over trainers and fighters alike, the course of combat sports history would change dramatically, and we don’t know what the repercussions of that alternate reality could manifest.
If you ever needed a more solid reason to date a female fighter, perhaps sex can be your new motivation. In the weeks of a training camp leading up to their fights, they now have a doctor’s blessing to use you for sex as frequently as they want because it helps them build testosterone levels.
The more sex you’re having, it tends to raise testosterone levels, both in males and females. The normal ratio of testosterone to estrogen is different between the male and the female, but with women, their levels of testosterone tend to go up more when they get sexually stimulated, and testosterone levels tends to increase aggression. Whether that transfers into a burst in performance for women, we don’t know. We’re talking about really minuscule amounts, so anabolically I don’t think it would have a big effect on the building of muscle or endurance. But we don't know for sure.
But raised testosterone for a female is going to increase their aggression, and it’s going to have an anabolic effect that she may not normally have. It also makes it easier for the female to develop more upper-body strength. The way women are normally wired, it’s easier for them to develop lower-body strength, which is great but it may not necessarily help in a grappling situation or the strength of a punch, etc.
The physiological, evolutionary purpose of creating more testosterone during sex -- the chemical point -- is that it increases desire. And there is a chemical connection between physical desire and aggression. Things get blurred, but it’s all related to testosterone.
Testosterone is a steroid hormone. A hormone is a chemical that can travel through the blood and affect different parts of the body through receptors on the surface of those organs. There are many different types of hormones. Hormones will bind on the surface of cells, certain tissues, and alter the genetic transcription of what’s going on inside the cell. When testosterone binds to the cells of, say, muscle fibers, muscle cells, it will go into the cell, all the way down into the nucleus of the cell, where all the genetic processing takes place. It will increase the activation of certain proteins that will result in building up the muscle. That’s how you get that anabolic effect. The DNA will produce proteins based on what part is activated, and hormones can activate different parts.
As for triggering more nebulous phenomena like aggression and desire, if you think about the different parts of the brain that are linked to aggression or sexual desire, they’re all very low on the brain stem, but it’s the same effect. The hormone will bind on those neurons in the brain, get taken down into the nucleus, affect the DNA to churn out proteins that make more proteins that will eventually stimulate those neurons to be more sensitive to stimuli than they normally would be. And if it’s in the area of the brain that controls aggression, you’ll get a lower threshold for those aggressive impulses to come out.
There are some studies that show testosterone and estrogen can actually be transferred back and forth in the saliva. So when a female is kissing a male, the male’s testosterone can stimulate her testosterone, which would raise her aggression. But there’s no evidence that having sex for a male would decrease testosterone. The ratio for a man during sex won’t change as much as it will for a woman.
So the old boxer’s belief that you shouldn’t have sex before a fight isn’t based in science. It’s a myth about male fighters because it’s not as if there’s only a certain amount of desire that can be triggered before you run out. You can’t deplete your testosterone levels by having sex. It’s actually the opposite: The more sex you have, you tend to stimulate testosterone production. But maybe there’s a psychological boost. Men grow more irritable when they don’t have sex, which is probably a good trait when you’re in the ring with somebody. So maybe there’s less of a physical effect and more of a psychological effect.
I don’t know whether the same kind or level of hormone transfer would happen with a same-sex couple. I would assume there would be a difference with, say, two women just because they have different ratios of testosterone and estrogen in their bodies. Every cell, everything the body makes, has an imprint on it, a genetic fingerprint, and it may be that somehow the body senses that it’s somebody else’s testosterone in the saliva that’s stimulating theirs, but they don’t know if it’s male or female.
Props to Fightland for reaching out to Dr. Michael Kelly and bringing us this comprehensive explanation. Without him, old school trainers would continue to try to convince you that sex before a fight is bad. Well, it's actually beneficial, and now you have science to back it up. Link your coaches to this article when they tell you otherwise, and be prepared to get kicked out of your gym when you disobey them despite this evidence. We can only offer you the truth, results of you using that information are not our responsibility. Oddly enough, Ronda Rousey knew all along, and that’s just another reason why she’s rawesome.