• Tue, Jul 17 2012

Ok, But Seriously: Is Sex A Viable Weight Loss Option?

does sex burn calories

Yesterday, we wrote about Pauline Potter, the world’s heaviest woman, who has lost nearly 100 lbs without leaving her bed–because, she says, she gets all the exercise she needs through intercourse. And while it certainly seems to be working for her, are the calories burned during sex and the flood of hormones it creates really enough for the average person? Are the potential heart-rate-increasing benefits of sex just an added bonus, or can having sex help you lose weight?

This is a question that researchers and fitness advocates have wondered about for years. Surely, an activity that gets you sweaty and happy must be good for more than just building up your relationship and releasing tension. But, because so many people are curious about it and because everybody’s sex life is different, there’s a pretty diverse body of evidence on the matter. So let’s take it one step at a time.

First, let’s look at the logistics of sex with another person (masturbation, while fun and healthy, just isn’t likely to be strenuous enough to get weight loss results). It is, by natural, a physical activity. But just how physical is it?

The answer is: It depends. It depends on the effort, the size of the individual, the fitness level of the individual, and plenty of other factors. But, for a ballpark estimate, it’s probably safe to say that a full hour of sexual activity burns about 100 calories. Some estimates low-ball the actual burn, pegging it at around 35-45 per hour (which seems unlikely–most 150-pound women burn about 80 calories per hour just by existing–which others say than an hour of sex for a woman that size can burn as many as 200.

Oh, and don’t worry about what position you’re in–the difference in heart rate and blood pressure responses have been found to be minimal.

However, the act of orgasming is important if you’re looking to get the most out of your proverbial romp in the hay. Climaxing can burn an addition 60-100 calories, depending on intensity–so, upon completing an hour of sex and finishing the job, you can estimate between 150 and 200 calories.

It’s important to keep in mind, though, that calories burned is all relative to the body. A very fit person, who has a lot of muscles doing a lot of work, may burn much more than that. And for someone like Pauline Potter, who became bedridden by her excessive weight, any amount of physical activity would make an impact. Conversely, a sedentary person of small-to-medium size, though the act may feel tiresome, will burn fewer, because there are fewer muscles and less weight to move around. And anyone who achieves an elevated heart rate will receive the benefits of light-to-moderate exercise, including a metabolism boost that continues to burn calories after the act is over.

But 200 calories for an hour of exercise doesn’t exactly stack up against, say, going for a run or taking a Spinning class, which can burn as many as 600 calories in an hour and keep your metabolism working hard for long after. In fact, if you had sex every day for a month, and burned about 150 calories each time, you would be on track to lose about a pound–or around 12 pounds over the course of a year, if you had sex every single day, which seems implausible. It’s not insignificant–but if you’re an active or able-bodies person, sex may not be the most effective way to shed pounds or build muscles. Though it is a nice addition to a regular workout routing.

Additionally, sex is–barring circus tricks and tantric positions that are similar to yoga–pretty much exclusively a cardio activity, which means it’s not a substitute for bone-boosting, muscle-building, metabolism-revving weight training. Much like any fitness regimen that is cardio-only and doesn’t include weights or any kind of muscle-building activity, sex can only offer part of an overall healthy workout plan.

However, weight loss is never just about calories, which means sex does have one other small, potentially helpful weight loss boon: Chemistry.

One of the most important hormones released during love making is oxytocin (it’s the same one that the brain releases during labor that leads to attachment and bonding), which has been found to be a promising weight loss supplement, because it suppresses the appetite.

Theoretically, then, if you can avoid sneaking off to the fridge for some post-coital ice cream, it may give your weight loss efforts a slight boost–though oxytocin levels drop almost immediately after orgasm, so that may be easier said than done.

There’s also the bigger matter of how sex impacts your overall quality of life. Orgasms (and even sex without them) can help you sleep better, feel less stressed, and avoid caving to cravings and other potentially unhealthy coping mechanisms, all of which can help thwart weight loss. People who are stressed, tired, and depressed are all at risk of gaining weight–and regular sex can help curb some of that.

For most of us, sex isn’t a single line of defense against weight gain. It doesn’t quite burn enough calories, nor does it offer the benefits of weight lifting or resistance training. However, the increased heart rate and physical activity, coupled with the release of hormones like oxytocin, are definitely great for your overall health, and may help you maintain a healthy weight.

Image: Sabotage via Shutterstock

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