London, June 21: “Women weaken legs,” Rocky’s coach says in the film, ending any ideas the boxer might have had of a sexual dalliance before fight night. Taking a leaf from the Rocky rule book, several World Cup teams have been given no-sex directives by their coaches.
Players for Chile, Mexico, Spain and Germany have all been given orders to abstain, while other coaches are seeking to limit sexual congress to levels judged modest enough not to endanger performance on the field.
French players have been told sex is all right — but not all night long. The Brazilians have been advised to avoid anything “acrobatic” or “unusual” and the Costa Rican team were told they could indulge in love-making once they qualified from the group stage.
Italy, Uruguay and Switzerland — whose players have apparently found themselves sharing a hotel with the wives of the German team — have all been given the green light. England’s players, having made an early exit, might not be in the mood.
But does the science support the belief that sex wastes vital energy and reduces the desire for victory?
Ian Shrier, of McGill University in Montreal and author of one of the few scientific studies on sex and sport, breaks the problem down thus: “There are two possible ways sex before competition could affect performance. First, it could make you tired and weak the next day. The second is that it could affect your psychological state of mind.”
The physiological theory, he said, has been categorically disproved. A previous study estimated that “normal sexual intercourse between married partners expends only 25-50 calories”, while a second found that having sex uses about 10-12 calories per minute. Other research shows that blood pressure stays relatively low and peak heart rate reaches 130 beats/minute — a comfortable level of exertion for an elite athlete.
Scientists have also dismissed the idea that ejaculation drains testosterone reserves, saying that sex stimulates the production of testosterone, potentially boosting aggression.
This leaves the “caged tiger” hypothesis, which suggests that sexual frustration can be strategically redirected into a rampantly effective performance on the pitch.
The idea, according to Professor John Brewer, director of sport at the University of Bedfordshire, is unlikely. “Once the whistle goes, elite athletes will have an automatic hormonal response that prepares them for exercise, regardless of whether they’ve had sex the night before,” he said.