Exercise Improves Self-Reported Sexual Function Among Physically Active Adults

J Sex Med. 2019 Aug;16(8):1236-1245. doi: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2019.04.020. Epub 2019 May 31.


Background: Sexual dysfunction is common among adults and takes a toll on quality of life for both men and women.

Aim: To determine whether higher levels of weekly cardiovascular exercise are protective against self-reported sexual dysfunction among men and women.

Methods: We conducted an international online, cross-sectional survey of physically active men and women between April and December 2016, assessing exercise activity categorized into sextiles of weekly metabolic equivalent-hours. Odds ratios (ORs) of sexual dysfunction for each activity sextile compared with the lowest sextile were calculated using multivariable logistic regression, controlling for age, body mass index, diabetes mellitus, tobacco/alcohol use, sport, and marital status.

Main outcome measures: Female sexual dysfunction was defined as a score ≤26.55 on the Female Sexual Function Inventory and erectile dysfunction (ED) was defined as a score ≤21 on the Sexual Health Inventory for Men.

Results: 3,906 men and 2,264 women (median age 41-45 and 31-35 years, respectively) met the inclusion criteria for the study. Men in sextiles 2-6 had reduced odds of ED compared with the reference sextile in adjusted analysis (Ptrend = .03), with an OR of 0.77 (95% CI = 0.61-0.97) for sextile 4 and 0.78 (95% CI = 0.62-0.99) for sextile 6, both statistically significant. Women in higher sextiles had a reduced adjusted OR of female sexual dysfunction (Ptrend = .02), which was significant in sextile 4 (OR = 0.70; 95% CI = 0.51-0.96). A similar pattern held true for orgasm dissatisfaction (Ptrend < .01) and arousal difficulty (Ptrend < .01) among women, with sextiles 4-6 reaching statistical significance in both.

Clinical implications: Men and women at risk for sexual dysfunction regardless of physical activity level may benefit by exercising more rigorously.

Strengths & limitations: Strengths include using a large international sample of participants with a wide range of physical activity levels. Limitations include the cross-sectional design, and results should be interpreted in context of the study population of physically active adults.

Conclusion: Higher cardiovascular exercise levels in physically active adults are inversely associated with ED by self-report in men and protective against female sexual dysfunction in women. Fergus KB, Gaither TW, Baradaran N, et al. Exercise Improves Self-Reported Sexual Function Among Physically Active Adults. J Sex Med 2019;16:1236-1245.

Keywords: Arousal; Erectile Dysfunction; Exercise; Female Sexual Dysfunction; Metabolic Equivalents; Orgasm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arousal
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Erectile Dysfunction / epidemiology*
  • Erectile Dysfunction / physiopathology
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Orgasm / physiology
  • Quality of Life
  • Self Report
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology*
  • Sexual Behavior / statistics & numerical data
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological / epidemiology*
  • Young Adult