Overview

When you think about physical activity, running, hitting the weights, or even swimming may come to mind. But what about sex? You may have heard it before: Getting busy with your partner makes for a great workout.

Is there validity to this claim? Not really. Sex as a significant form of exercise is an exaggeration. It does get your blood pumping. But caloric expenditure from sex is not as high as many people think.

What does the research say?

Several studies published in the last few years have discussed sex and calorie expenditure. One of them, from the University of Quebec at Montreal, studied 21 heterosexual couples in their early 20s. Researchers tracked energy expenditure during exercise and sexual activity. They used armbands to track activity.

Perceived energy expenditure, perception of effort, fatigue, and pleasure were also assessed after sexual activity.

All participants completed a 30-minute endurance exercise session on a treadmill at a moderate intensity to compare caloric expenditure.

Results showed that men burned 101 calories (4.2 calories per minute) on average during the 24-minute session. Women burned 69 calories (3.1 calories per minute). Mean intensity was 6.0 METS in men and 5.6 METS in women, which represents moderate intensity. During the 30-minute moderate-intensity treadmill session, men burned 276 calories and women burned 213 calories. Also, it was noted that perceived energy expenditure during sexual activity was similar in men and women when compared to measured energy expenditure.

What do these results mean? Sex doesn’t burn as many calories as moderate-intensity exercise, but the number of calories burned was still notable.

Another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine isn’t quite as forgiving with caloric expenditure estimations for sexual activity. The study says that a man weighing 154 pounds would, at 3 METs, expend approximately 3.5 calories per minute (210 calories per hour) during a stimulation and orgasm session.

This level of expenditure is similar to that achieved by walking at a moderate pace (approximately 2.5 miles per hour). But the study says that the average bout of sexual activity lasts for only about six minutes. This means that a man in his early-to-mid 30s could burn approximately 21 calories during sexual intercourse.

How to burn more calories during sex

Given the research, “average” sexual activity won’t make much of a dent in your caloric expenditure. If you want to increase the benefit of your next round of sex, how can you up the amount burned?

Go longer

Rationale follows that if you want to burn more calories, participate in sexual activity for a longer amount of time.

Make it steamy

The warmer it is, the more you’ll sweat, and the more calories you will burn.

Try different positions

There is such a thing as a sex calculator. You can enter you and your partner’s gender and weight, along with what positions you executed, and calories burned is tallied.

For a woman who weighs 140 pounds and her male partner who weighs 190 pounds, the missionary position with her on the bottom for 10 minutes will burn 14 calories for her. It will burn 47 calories for him.

If they were standing during sex with her in front, she would burn 30 calories and he would burn 51 in 10 minutes. Lastly, if he was holding her up for 10 minutes during sex, he would burn 65 calories and she would burn 40.

Other benefits of sex

Besides caloric expenditure, sex has plenty of other benefits that improve your health.

Healthy heart

According to an American Journal of Cardiology study, men who had sex at least twice a week were less likely to develop heart disease, as compared to men who only had sex once per month.

Stress relief and better sleep

After orgasm, hormones called oxytocin and prolactin are released. Both oxytocin and prolactin have strong links to satiety, relaxation, and sleepiness.

Stronger pelvic floor muscles

Pelvic floor muscles support the bladder, bowel, and uterus. When they contract, these organs are lifted and the openings to the vagina, anus, and urethra are tightened.

Strengthening these muscles supports control over bodily functions such as urination. It can also increase the ability to achieve pleasurable sensations during sex.

Bottom line

Evidence varies on the number of calories burned during sex, but a safe estimate is 3 to 4 calories per minute. Sex has many other health benefits beyond burning calories, but don’t count on it for your quota of physical activity.