Exercising gets your heart rate high and blood pumping, in the same way that the body reacts to sexual stimulation and when we’re aroused. And as with foreplay, the more intense the buildup, the greater the rewards.
“More intense exercise, like HIIT workouts, can release happy hormones known as endorphins,” says certified sex therapist Jenni Skyler, PhD. “When we feel happy, our stress can take a vacation, making space for arousal (and horniness).”
- Jenni Skyler, PhD, PhD, LMFT, CST, certified sex therapist, board-certified sexologist, and licensed marriage and family therapist
Of course, we all have different ideas of what “intense exercise” looks like for us. But you can categorize a workout as high intensity whenever you’re performing at your maximum effort. “This means getting your heart rate up high enough and for long enough to release those endorphins—you’ll know you are there when you just feel good,” says Dr. Skyler.
And when you’re feeling good post-workout, you might also be feeling horny, especially if you’re around other sweaty, endorphin-riding people or near your partner. Here are a few of the reasons why.
Working out affects our hormones
Exercising may help to increase testosterone levels, which can lead to greater arousal, especially for men, says Dr. Skyler. In the long-term, lifting heavy weight increases muscle mass, which triggers the body to produce more testosterone, and maintaining your weight through exercise is known to keep testosterone levels from dipping. HIIT workouts have also been shown to increase this sex hormone. “Since testosterone is the hormone directly related to feelings of horniness, elevating testosterone with exercise can be game-changing,” says Dr. Skyler.
Though this testosterone elevation isn’t as significant in women as it is in men, a small study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine showed that women who engaged in sustained exercise for just 20 minutes showed increased genital arousal, elevated dopamine and serotonin levels (your body’s “happy hormones”), and improved overall mood, as well as decreased cortisol (aka your “stress hormone”). A 2018 review published in Sexual Medicine Reviews also found improvements in sexual arousal post-sweat sesh.
Exercising increases blood flow
Physical activity not only drives fresh blood to the body’s muscles that are being challenged by the workout, but also to the genitals. According to Dr. Skyler, that boost in circulation leads to more lubrication or a firmer erection, and is essential for climaxing.
Movement is a stress-buster
While those endorphins act as a pick-me-up, most exercise also reduces cortisol and therefore stress levels. “Exercising for fighting stress is helpful for allowing more space in one's life for joy and pleasure, sexually and non-sexually,” explains Dr. Skyler.
Training can build confidence
You know how you just feel good after finishing a workout? That confidence can also make you more in touch with your body.
“The most important part of exercise, besides impacting overall health along with sexual health, is the reward of self-confidence,” says Dr. Skyler. “Most people feel awesome after they exercise and feel good about themselves. And self-confidence is the antidote to insecurity and inhibition, and thus the most important aphrodisiac when it comes to sexual desire and arousal.”
There’s also something to be said for leaving the gym knowing that having a stronger body can make sex more satisfying.
For instance, lower body strength work targeting the muscles like the core, hamstrings, and glutes benefit your pelvic floor—and more strength in those pelvic muscles can enhance the quality and intensity of orgasm, according to Dr. Skyler.
Meanwhile, “upper body strength exercises, such as those that work the chest, back, biceps, and triceps, can help you hold yourself up more easily when it comes to certain positions, or even just for missionary when on top,” she says.
And of course, greater flexibility allows you to be more agile for trying new positions, while having better cardiovascular endurance lets you keep going. “Most exercise enhances stamina in general, helping the individual hang in there longer without too much effort,” Dr. Skyler says.
Plus, your muscles probably look pretty good, too, especially after lifting weights. So why not flex a little and show them off?
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- Dote-Montero, Manuel et al. “Acute Effect of HIIT on Testosterone and Cortisol Levels in Healthy Individuals: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, vol. 31, no. 9, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.13999.
- Lorenz, Tierney A, and Cindy M Meston. “Acute exercise improves physical sexual arousal in women taking antidepressants.” Annals of behavioral medicine : a publication of the Society of Behavioral Medicine vol. 43,3 (2012): 352-61. doi:10.1007/s12160-011-9338-1
- Stanton, Amelia M et al. “The Effects of Exercise on Sexual Function in Women.” Sexual medicine reviews vol. 6,4 (2018): 548-557. doi:10.1016/j.sxmr.2018.02.004
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