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Queerty: Study reveals why you might feel horny after going to the gym

A man lifts a dumbell at a gymPosed by model (Photo: Shutterstock)

A recent German study says physical exertion increases men’s responses to sexual stimuli.

The research explored how exercise impacts the sympathetic nervous system. That’s the part of the nervous system that prompts your “fight-or-flight” response. Stress, fear and exercise trigger this system. However, few studies have concentrated on whether it also impacts sexual arousal.

The German study recruited 43 male students, mainly in their 20s.

The researchers split these men into two groups: the “stressor” group and the “control” group.


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Those in the stressor half took part in a physically stressful activity for three minutes. In this instance, squeezing hard on hand grips.

After the exercise, collections of images were shown to both groups. Each photo flashed up on a screen for five seconds. The photos consisted of the following: violent/threatening images; sporting activities; sexual erotica featuring male-female couples, or more benign images of nature or everyday social interactions.

The participants were all hooked up to ECG monitors and other equipment. This allowed for the tracking of physiological changes including blood pressure, pupil dilation and skin conductance. Pupil dilation and your skin’s electrical conduction demonstrate fluctuations when fight-or-flight mode activates.

The sexual images shown to each participant were heterosexual in nature. Because of this, one gay participant and two bisexual participants were excluded from the final results. The researchers had concerns these men may not have reacted in the same way to the heterosexual erotica as the others in the study.


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The results were clear. The men who undertook just a few minutes of exercise showed a more intense response to the sexual stimuli. However, reactions to the violent images, and the more benign images, remained pretty similar between the two groups.

Excitability and endorphins

It’s known that chronic or prolonged stress can decrease libido and sexual function. However, these results show that short-term stress, associated with physical activity, has the opposite effect.

“Taken together, our findings provide strong evidence for enhancement of sexual processing by acute stress exposure in men and suggest differential involvement of parasympathetic versus sympathetic mechanisms,” the study authors concluded.

They theorize that our body’s response to sexual activity is due to a combination of complicated excitatory and inhibitory processes. Short-term physical exertion prompts the release of euphoria-producing endorphins. Exercise perhaps decreases inhibitory processes as our body enters fight-or-flight mode. However, the authors stress that further research is required to work out exactly what is going on.

As already stated, the study involved men who identified as heterosexual. Would gay men react differently if shown erotic gay images after exercise? There’s no reason to believe they would but only further study would prove this.

Either way, it seems there are physiological reasons why you might feel horny after a good workout — and it’s not just down to eyeing up all the other hotties at the gym.

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