Picture this: A wellness freelance writer (who sometimes writes about sex) goes on a date (errr, coffee hang, shall we say) with a muscle-bound CrossFit coach. As we walk to grab a cup of Joe, I attempt awkward small talk with the Fabio-bodied man, telling him that: “I’ve been researching supplements you can take to boost your libido!” (Yes, my voice said it in a tone deserving of an exclamation point. Smoooooth.). Like the first-date trooper he is, he doesn’t take this flub with any sort of insinuation. Instead, he tells me that, as a personal trainer and coach, he likes to talk to his clients about their libido, saying that sudden on-set low libido can be a sign of poor recovery.
Now, he has my attention, I’ll tell you that for sure. But, I wonder: A) How true this is and B) If this is just the case for men, who, after all, are better-studied than women. I’d read headlines in the past that stemmed from a study done on men’s sex drives and working out, which found that exercise can decrease desire. The caveat of the findings? It’s only if it’s really, really strenuous and prolonged exercise (however, other studies like this one and this one have shown that working out boosts testosterone and libido in men—especially those who are sedentary or do very little physical activity). But given CrossFit’s reputation for being hardcore, it’s not too surprising that my “pal” (don’t @ me, dating is confusing) jumped to the conclusion that he should ask if his athletes are experiencing lower libido.
And in all of this my question remains: What about women? So here’s all the intel about a woman’s libido and her fitness regimen.
What to know about women’s libido and exercise
According to One Medical Provider, Natasha Bhuya MD, it’s hard to know what the research on men means for women, exactly. “For women in particular, libido is multifaceted: it’s physical, mental, and physiological.” So yeah, we can’t just assume blanket conclusions are the same between the sexes. In fact, for women, exercise might actually boost libido. One October 2018 study published in in the journal Sexual Medicine Review, for instance, found that exercise benefits the body in complex ways—physically, psychologically, mentally, and emotionally—that can then translate into a revved up libido.
But can exercise have the opposite effect on women’s libido, too? TBH because of a lack of research, experts say it’s still hard to say exactly what relationship between exercise and women’s libido is. For instance, Lauren F. Streicher, MD, medical director at Northwestern Medicine Center for Sexual Medicine and Menopause isn’t convinced there’s a relationship between exercise and libido for women at all. “The list of things that impacts women’s libido and cause low libido is very long, but exercise isn’t specifically on that list,” she says. “The only reason I can think that exercise would decrease libido is that someone who spends all day exercising would probably be too tired to have sex.” Touché.
So, where does all of this net out in terms of having a convo with your trainer if you find a correlation between your sex drive and fitness routine? First, it’s important to remember that most coaches and trainer are just that— which means that they’re not doctors, hormone experts, or sex-perts. In clinical sexologist Megan Stubbs, Ed.D.opinion: “It never hurts to ask your fitness coach, or share what’s going on with you outside of the gym…especially if the timelines match up. Maybe you really are going too hard at the gym.” But, she says that conversation shouldn’t replace the convo you have with your doctor or with your partner.
The bottomline is that women’s libido—and how exercise effects libido specifically— is complicated. If you notice a major dip, consider talking to your trainer, but definitely talk to your doc. But because your gym time is more likely to improve your sex life (and might even help you meet potential partners at your fitness studio or CrossFit box). Bring on the weights.