Heat and Sex: How Do Rising Temperatures Impact Our Sex Lives?
Residents of the United States and countries across Europe and Asia are experiencing blistering, record-breaking summer temperatures in 2023.
Extreme heat exacerbates drought, elevates sea levels and increases wildfire risk. In addition, it places physiological stress on the human body, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). As well as contributing to a cascade of heart, respiratory and mental health problems, soaring temperatures may cause problems with sexual function.
A single hot day with temperatures higher than 80 degrees significantly reduced birth rates nine months later, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study that examined eight decades of fertility and temperature data in the U.S.
"The most likely explanation for the decline in birth rate is that high temperatures interfere with sperm production," said Alan Barreca, Ph.D., the study author and a professor at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. "It's unclear how temperatures affect sexual activity."
Barreca and his fellow researchers theorize that extreme weather could influence "coital frequency" by affecting hormone levels and sex drives.
The possible ways heat impacts sex
More research is required to understand the impact of extreme temperatures on our sex lives, said Elisabeth Gordon, M.D., a sexual health psychiatrist in New York City.
"But there is good data though that suggests that high temperatures do have an effect on the physiology and psychology related to sexual function," she said.
We know five factors excessive heat can influence that impact our sex lives.
1. Increased oxytocin
It isn't all bad news for summer love. Here's something that can benefit your sex life.
"Hot weather could increase sexual activity by increasing the production of certain hormones, like oxytocin," Barreca said.
Production of oxytocin—also known as the "love hormone"—spikes in high temperatures, a 2022 study suggested. Oxytocin is believed to play a role in orgasm, social recognition and social bonding. The hormone is linked to significant improvements in certain sexual functions, including libido, erection and orgasm.
2. Arousal issues
Extreme heat could contribute to arousal issues for all genders, according to Martha Tara Lee, D.H.S., an AASECT-certified sex educator and clinical sexologist with Eros Coaching in Singapore.
"High temperatures can cause dehydration, which may result in decreased vaginal lubrication or erectile difficulties in some individuals," Lee said.
Dehydration causes lower blood volume, potentially hindering blood flow to the genitals, according to Gordon.
3. Increased stress
"Increased heat is associated with increased stress hormones in the body," Gordon said.
"If you're more irritable, you're less in the mood for sex," she added.
4. Physical discomfort
"Heat-related discomfort, such as sticky or sweaty skin, can create distractions and hinder focus during sex," Lee said.
"Bodily fluids like sweat are still stigmatized within our culture," Gordon said. "Many people are leery of physical contact when they or their partner are excessively sweaty."
In addition, high temperatures can lead to increased body odor, which may affect self-confidence and sexual attraction, Lee said.
5. Climate anxiety
"While there is limited research specifically on the impact of extreme weather and climate change on sex drive, it's worth considering some potential indirect effects," Lee said. "Climate change can lead to disruptions in daily routines, increased stress levels and concerns about the future, all of which can have an impact on mental well-being and sexual desire."
A 2021 global survey reported that about 4 in 10 respondents were "hesitant to have children" because of climate concerns. A 2019 poll indicated that more than 30 percent of Americans ages 18 to 44 agreed couples should consider climate change when deciding to have kids.
How to have safe, enjoyable sex during a heat wave
If you're feeling turned off by the hot weather, now's the time to turn it around. Integrate some of the following seven tips for safe, summer fun in the sack.
1. Try temperature play
"Incorporate temperature play into your sexual activities," Lee said. "This can involve using ice cubes, chilled lubricants or even a cooling massage oil to add a refreshing sensation to your intimate moments."
Gordon recommended mixing cold foods such as ice cream or whipped cream into your sexual activities.
"Not only will these foods cool you off, but they're a great way to revive interest in sex by trying something new or something you don't do very often," she said.
2. Stick to water-based lubricants
"Water-based lubricants tend to have a cooling effect on the skin, which can enhance sensitivity and pleasure during sexual activity," Lee said. "Look for lubricants that specifically advertise a cooling or tingling sensation."
3. Avoid high-contact and energy-intensive sex positions
"Some sexual positions generate more body heat than others," Lee said. "Trying out different positions that allow for more airflow and reduce physical exertion can make sex more comfortable in hot weather."
Gordon suggested trying a side-by-side or scissoring position.
"Any position where you're both reclining," she said. "This will allow you to build the arousal and make orgasms easier to reach without having a lot of vigorous physical activity."
4. Stay hydrated
"Dehydration can contribute to fatigue and low energy levels, which can affect sexual desire," Lee said. "Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated and maintain optimal energy levels."
During sex, look out for signs your body is dehydrated.
"Pay attention to your body's signals and take breaks if you feel overheated or fatigued," she said. "Using lubrication can also help reduce discomfort and friction during sex."
5. Avoid heavy meals beforehand
"Eat light meals with a lot of fruits and a lot of vegetables," Gordon said. "These will help you stay hydrated and won't weigh you down."
6. Engage in other forms of intimacy
"If the heat is making sex less appealing, think about other forms of intimacy," Lee said. "Focus on sensual touch and massage, and incorporate toys or other aids that enhance pleasure without generating excessive body heat."
This could include cuddling, kissing or simply spending quality time together.
"If it's too hot tonight, that's a reason just to lie there and draw circles on each other's skin under the overhead fan and maybe have a little conversation," Gordon said.
"If you really don't want to engage in sex because it's just too hot, it's really important to communicate that to your partner," Gordon said.
Don't just say, "No, not tonight." Instead, she suggested, say something like, "I can't tonight. I'm just too hot. I'm still interested in having sex with you and I would love to when it's cooler."
The bottom line
Yes, it's hot, and it's hot all over the world. But if you're hot to trot, the weather is no reason not to have sex.
You just have to prepare a little, talk about what you're going to do and enjoy yourselves.