Did the Soccer Sex Ban Work?

Delve into the science behind celibacy and athletic performance.

June 27, 2014— -- Cameroonian soccer players only scored once during the World Cup – and it wasn’t in the bedroom.

The team is among six whose players had reportedly been instructed not to have sex during the World Cup in the hopes that celibacy would somehow enhance their athletic ability.

Apparently, it didn’t do that much good.

Coaches for Bosnia, Cameroon, Chile, Ghana, Mexico and South Korea banned nookie, according to The Telegraph. But only Chile and Mexico moved on to the tournament’s round of 16. The other four teams are out of the running.

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The notion that celibacy helps performance has been around for decades – even Muhammad Ali reportedly abstained before fights. But there’s no scientific evidence that it works, said Jeff Janata, psychology division chief at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

“I assume that it relates to the idea that testosterone and aggression are linked,” Janata said, explaining that some people assume that they lose testosterone through ejaculation. “In reality, science suggests just the opposite.”

Janata said celibate men actually have lower testosterone levels than men who have regular sex.

“So if you’re looking at testosterone and aggression, maybe there’s logic to actually engaging in sex,” he said. “If you’re looking at performance in general, there’s some evidence that sex actually enhances performance across a variety of areas, as long as it’s not immediately before the act.”

Sex releases endorphins, which act as the body’s natural pain relievers, Janata said. It can also help calm anxious players before their matches.

But what about burning too many calories before a match? After all, Brazil reportedly banned only “acrobatic” sex, and its team moved on to the next round.

“Sex does not really expend that much in the way of calories to the chagrin of people who like to think of it as their trip to the gym,” Janata said, adding that a typical sex act only amounts to the number of calories in a “hard-boiled egg.”

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