Running Out of Excuses Not to Orgasm
You know exercise is good for you. It can help improve heart health and reduce the risk of diabetes, some cancers and arthritis. It can also allow you to attain and maintain healthy body composition.
However, a regular workout routine can also help improve sexual health. And not just in the "I feel better about myself so I'm more energized and open to getting naked" sort of way, but it can actually enhance orgasms in women.
This claim isn't just anecdotal, either. There are scientific reasons why a regular running routine or trip to the gym may boost your sexual gratification.
The sexual health benefits of regular exercise
It's important to remember that arousal and sexual desire are complicated functions that incorporate your physical, mental and emotional readiness for sex. Benefits can occur simultaneously, and due to all the systems involved, you may find yourself feeling friskier and readier for sex after a few workouts.
"A study on those who regularly exercise found that improvements in physiological sexual arousal after recent exercise may be due to increased sympathetic nervous system activity and hormone factors," said Kasia Gondek, D.P.T., a physical therapist specializing in women's health, pelvic floor rehabilitation and orthopedics at Femina Physical Therapy in Los Angeles. "Additionally, positive body image was also speculated to improve sexual well-being."
While all forms of exercise appear to carry benefits, aerobic exercise seems to aid sexual arousal more than other forms.
"Aerobic exercises, like running, help increase circulation and blood flow, contributing to the overall health of the circulatory system," said Laura DeCesaris, a health strategist who holds a functional medicine certification and fellowship, and is based in Scottsdale, Arizona. "Strong, healthy blood flow is a key contributor to arousal, as well as vaginal lubrication and overall sensation. Running and other aerobic exercises can help release different hormones, including serotonin and dopamine, endorphins and endocannabinoids. These can help enhance mood and motivation, resulting in greater feelings of happiness, confidence and contentment. For women, sexual health can be deeply tied to emotions and mental state, not just the physical."
A strong pelvic floor, sexual arousal and exercise
The pelvic floor muscles are extremely important for the physical side of sex and orgasms, particularly for women.
"Our pelvic floor muscles play a key role in sexual functioning," Gondek said. "The pelvic floor muscles are involved in arousal and orgasm, as well as bowel and bladder functioning, in addition to being the internal support of the pelvis."
Regular exercise—particularly exercises designed to help improve cardiovascular health and core strength, of which the pelvic floor muscles are a part—can help enhance physical and sexual health. Some researchers speculate that runners experience stronger orgasms due to their good circulation and strong pelvic floor muscles.
"A recent study among amateur female runners found that those who reported high-effort running reported higher-intensity orgasms compared with female runners who reported moderate-intensity running efforts," Gondek explained, referring to a study published in June 2022 in the International Urogynecology Journal. "Additionally, there was a positive correlation between weekly running distance and the intensity of the orgasm experienced. The researchers point to improved clitoral circulation and better pelvic floor muscle functioning as the explanation for improved sexual function.
"The strength of the pelvic floor muscles do correlate positively with the intensity and duration of an orgasm itself," she added. "Additionally, contractions of the levator ani muscle group, also known as the pelvic diaphragm, contribute to sexual pleasure."
A strong pelvic floor (which can be improved with regular exercise) and better circulation (which comes from regular cardiovascular workouts like walking or running) are key contributors to improved sexual enjoyment during arousal and orgasm.
Runners may have better orgasms, but there are caveats
While the runners who engaged in intense exercise in the study cited by Gondek were more likely to have more intense orgasms, there are a couple of important details to keep in mind. Namely, individuals who have weak pelvic floor muscles before starting a running routine may actually experience negative side effects.
"If women don't have a strong pelvic floor, running can sometimes provide an additional challenge. It's not uncommon for some women to experience urinary leakage if they are running with a weak pelvic floor or doing any sort of high-impact workout, like jumping," DeCesaris explained. "The higher the impact or intensity of the exercise, the higher the risk of exercise incontinence."
The good news is you don't have to hit the road running (literally) to take advantage of the sexual benefits of exercise.
"Any form of aerobic exercise can improve vascular health and circulation and, therefore, could be associated with improved sexual function due to the interdependence of good blood flow, sexual arousal and orgasms," Gondek said.
This means walking, swimming and riding a bike are all good options that won't put unnecessary stress or strain on weak pelvic floor muscles.
Add it to your exercise routine
Given that any form of cardio exercise can contribute to improved sexual health, you can start with walking and a pelvic floor strengthening plan before you progress (if desired) to running.
"Doing pelvic floor conditions, like Kegels, as part of a balanced cross-training exercise plan is helpful in improving pelvic floor strength, as is weight training, which when done correctly, strengthens the core and pelvic floor," DeCesaris noted.
Gondek cautioned that Kegels aren't the best option for everyone, and advised that if you experience urinary or fecal incontinence, pelvic pain or difficulty reaching orgasm, it's worth seeking a consultation with a pelvic floor physical therapist who can assess and treat the root cause of these issues. Tight pelvic floor muscles can be mistaken for weak pelvic floor muscles because the symptoms can appear similar.
"As a pelvic floor physical therapist who treats sexual dysfunction, patients with sexual dysfunction including pain with sex or orgasms often have shortened, tight pelvic floor muscles that may appear weak when doing strength testing, but in reality are unable to contract and relax as they normally should because they're in a state of tension all or most of the time," Gondek explained. "I liken this to a trampoline that is way too stiff. If you jump on it, it won't have the appropriate give and springy rebound it needs to function properly. When muscles are too tight or stiff, they get less blood flow, and we need good circulation for good orgasms. So if a person's pelvic floor muscles are either too weak or too tight, this can contribute to decreased orgasm intensity and decreased arousal."
To that end, she said it's important to be aware of any "clenching" you do during exercise to help prevent the chance of contributing to this over-tightening of the pelvic floor muscles.
"A lot of us clench our jaw, shoulders and pelvic floor. If you're someone who does, focus on softening these areas as you're running," Gondek said. "We need good posture and core strength, including the pelvic floor muscles, and strength of the hips and lower legs to propel ourselves through an efficient running stride and to sustain us through the exercise effort. But remember the trampoline analogy: We need our muscles to have enough flexibility and 'spring' for strong muscle contractions."
Keep your routines enjoyable and avoid overtraining
There's a "sweet spot" for exercise's benefits, including sexual benefits. It lies in a place called "balance." A well-balanced exercise routine that allows for sufficient rest and recovery while meeting the national guidelines for exercise engagement is your best bet for improving your sexual health without overdoing it.
"Regardless of what your sport or preferred exercise method is, I'm a big fan of cross-training," DeCesaris said. "If running is your go-to, you should still try to incorporate strength training and a yoga or mobility workout into your schedule to balance things out. Overall, the goal is to keep good core strength and pelvic floor health by performing a variety of exercise types."
It's vital to listen to your body and to give yourself breaks when needed. Exercise is one of the best activities you can do for your overall health, but it's a physical stressor that can overtax your systems if you're not careful.
"Overtraining can cause an imbalance of sex hormones, which can lead to irregular or absent periods, [and] decreased sexual function, including decreased orgasms and decreased arousal," Gondek said. "A way to ensure this doesn't happen is to consume adequate calories in a balanced diet, especially during heavy training cycles, and plan for a good balance of rest and recovery to prevent overtraining."