You don’t need a scientist to tell you that sex can be a full-tilt, sweat-drenched workout. But how many calories does a good romp really burn? In a recent study, researchers at the University of Québec at Montréal measured energy expended during sex versus running, and found that we get our hearts pumping and muscles cranking enough during sex for it to be considered moderate exercise.
The researchers recruited 21 healthy, active, heterosexual couples in their early 20s to jog on treadmills at about 65 percent of their maximum heart rates for 30 minutes. While running, they wore lightweight armband monitors that measure energy expenditure in calories and exercise intensity in METs, or metabolic equivalent of task.
Next, the couples were asked to have sex once a week for a month while wearing the same armbands to track their calories and intensity during sexual activity. The duration of the sex varied, but the average session across all couples for the month was about 25 minutes.
On average, the men burned 9.2 calories per minute while jogging (or about 230 calories for a 25-minute jog) and had a mean intensity of 8.5 METs, compared to 4.2 calories per minute (105 calories per session) and 6 METs during sex. Women burned a little less, logging 7.1 calories per minute and 8.1 METs on the treadmill, and 3.1 calories per minute and 5.6 METs during sex.
Unsurprisingly, jogging for a half-hour taxed everyone’s bodies more than having sex – but the researchers were impressed at how much energy these people exerted during sex. According to study author Antony Karelis, the participants burned enough calories and reached high enough intensities for sex to be considered “moderate intensity” exercise, the equivalent of walking briskly. While it’s not on the level of doing wind sprints or 30-lap pool sessions, sex can be a legit form of exercise, says Karelis.
Sex is good for you, but it isn’t always exercise: Karelis points out that sometimes sex isn’t hot and heavy and doesn’t always last long, so you can’t count every quickie as a moderate workout. “Sex should not replace regular exercise,” Karelis says. “Rather, sex and exercise should both be incorporated into your routine on a regular basis. Studies show that each improves health, so the combination of the two leads to a greater quality of life.”
The most prevalent thought for both men and women during sex is a fairly obvious one: “How am I doing?” But this question leads to very different thought processes for the sexes. “While you’re worrying about how long you’ll be able to last, she’s worrying that things are taking too long on her end,” says Emily Morse, a sex and relationship expert and host of the top downloaded podcast Sex with Emily. You can thank the orgasm gap: While the average man reaches climax in about five to seven minutes, a woman, on average, requires at least 20 minutes of direct stimulation. But there’s more to it than that. Here, taken from the experts, are some of the more prevalent thoughts you could expect her to be having.
“Am I taking too long?”
Many women worry that they’re taking too long to reach orgasm and/or that their partner will orgasm before they do. “Women sometimes take longer to get aroused and therefore take longer to orgasm, particularly if they aren’t receiving enough persistent, direct clitoral stimulation — otherwise known as the orgasm gap. Promescent, an OTC spray, is one way men can extend their latency time and prolong intercourse, particularly if they have a partner who generally takes longer to reach orgasm than they do (which is most men),” says Ian Kerner a psychotherapist and sexuality counselor.
Jack, her more handsome co-worker.
Women fantasize more than men do during sex, and many don’t fantasize about the act they’re engaging in or the person they’re having sex with. “This isn’t because they’re bored or disinterested — rather, it helps to quiet the parts of the brain that are associated with anxiety and outside stressors. It’s been shown that women, unlike men, need to turn off parts of their brain in order for the rest of their body to turn on, and fantasizing — even if it’s not about you — is a great way to do that,” says Dr. Kerner.
Flaws with her own body.
Women in general suffer from an epidemic of body-image dissatisfaction. Too many women feel as though their bodies are flawed. During sex, rather than focusing on what they are feeling, they worry about what our partner thinks of our body: Does s/he see this wiggle here, this stretch mark there, the way my boobs flop over there? “We try to hide our body (only having sex in the dark, keeping clothes on during sex, only getting undressed under the covers), sometimes we avoid having sex in positions that could be unflattering, etc. All of this compromises a woman’s pleasure because when our heads are filled with worries and anxieties, we aren’t present in the current moment. When we are busy worrying about how to position the sheets in a way that will flatter our belly or hide our thighs, we aren’t attuned to the pleasurable physical sensations of our partner’s touch, and this can interfere with our ability to derive satisfaction from the sexual experience,” says Alexis Conason, Psy.D., Licensed Psychologist ().
“During intercourse women often think about their man’s performance, what he’s doing that feels good and what doesn’t,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills child, parenting, and relationship psychotherapist, author, The Self-Aware Parent, and co-star of Sex Box on WE tv. Frequently, women (and men) fantasize about other people and various behaviors that titillate and excite their fire. “Although I am a proponent of open, honest, direct communication, I strongly urge people not to tell their partners their personal bedroom fantasies during intercourse. All it does is fuel jealousy, rivalry, competition, and low self-esteem in your partner, creating a wedge between you and your beloved.”
When it’s going to end.
“This is especially true when they weren’t really into it in the first place, but agreed to engage, hoping that they would get in the mood,” says Rhonda Milrad, a relationship therapist, and founder and CEO of Relationup.
It’s really true!