No matter what you are doing, you are always exercising and burning off calories. Did you know you that 10 minutes of laughing burns off about 50 calories? Even brushing your teeth for two minutes burns 5.7 calories.
Sex, the most enjoyable type of exercise, also burns off a handful of calories, but it’s difficult to say what a good average is. Some say it’s about 69 calories, whereas others claim sexercise can burn over 200.
Buried in a study about obesity in the New England Journal of Medicine is a small reference to this, which notes that a man in his mid-to-early 30s engaging in the average length of sexual activity – that’s six minutes – would burn off just 21 measly calories. This is based on a rough estimate of a person’s rate of energy conversion (metabolism) during sex – an educated guess, really.
Clearly, it’s complicated. It depends on a huge range of factors, including – but not limited to – whether you are male or female, who you’re engaging in a frivolous frisk with, how long the action lasts, how vigorous it is, your relative cardiovascular health, muscle mass and, of course, what position(s) you are taking.
So what sexual activity burns off the most calories? Let’s see what science has to say about it.
Physical activity, which obviously includes sex, makes up just 10 to 30 percent of your energy usage. The more muscles you have, the more energy they require to be used, and the more you need to respire, the more energy you’ll use up.
So if you have particularly spirited sex for longer, and you’re particularly muscly already, you’ll burn up more calories. That’s the basic science of any form of exercise.
Additionally, prolonging foreplay, maybe throwing in a massage or two – or a spontaneous dance show if you’re into that kind of thing – will certainly burn up more calories than just careening straight into coitus. There is one other thing that’s worth considering, though: orgasms.
Orgasms do make a difference, but it is not clear by how much. Mariyana M/Shutterstock
Orgasms require a fair bit of energy to take place, and we’re not just talking about the stimulation required to initiate them. Clearly, though, the longer it takes to bring someone to orgasm using a variety of somewhat repetitive actions, the more calories the stimulator will burn – but what about the lucky orgasming person themselves?
Orgasms involve a rush of hormones, a spike in blood flow, the generation and the ejaculation of a variety of sexual fluids, all of which expend energy. On average, the process of attaining an orgasm can burn off between 60 to 100 calories, according to one source. Another claims just 3 calories are used.
In any case, most men post-orgasm have a rest or “refractory” period of time wherein they cannot achieve another until their wilted soldier has recovered. On average, this lasts 30 minutes. Certain women can have orgasms almost indefinitely during the same time period – so in terms of calories burned through orgasms during an amorous session, they definitely win this round.
The science of sex is decidedly complicated. SOMKKU/Shutterstock
The more positions you attempt during sex, the more calories you’ll burn, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s assume the same position is held throughout. So what position flames away the most calories – doggy style, cowgirl, classic missionary or something risky sounding called the “passion propeller?”
As it turns out, there aren’t too many studies on the subject. Arming a passionate couple with high-tech cardiovascular monitoring equipment is difficult for a fair few reasons, so most publications have taken to giving rough estimates that, at a glance, appear to vary wildly.
A company named UK Medix, an online pharmacy, has for some reason designed a Sex Calculator. This digital curiosity claims to work out how many calories a bit of bed-based bouncing burns off, depending on position, your weight, and whether the participant in question is male or female.
It doesn’t appear particularly precise – when asked about weight, one option is “curves in all the right places,” which appears to roughly translate as “average weight.” For the duration dropdown box, it ranges from “slow and tender” to “fast and furious.” It is unlikely to be particularly scientific.
However, another online calculator by another UK pharmacy, Superdrug, seems ludicrously comprehensive by comparison. It allows you to choose the gender of not just yourself, but your partner. Users can also numerically enter their specific weights, along with the duration of their passionate foray in minutes, from zero to 120.
Keeping to a “moderate intensity,” assuming sex lasts for 15 minutes, and using the average weight of 89 kilograms (196 pounds) for US men and 75 kilograms (166 pounds) for US women, the results are perhaps unsurprising.
For a man, standing-based sex burns the most calories (80), followed by doggy style (76), missionary (72), spooning (67), and finally, cowgirl (25). For a woman, cowgirl uses the most (67 calories), followed by doggy (54), standing (53), spooning (48), then missionary (24).
Roughly speaking, the most submissive positions burn up the least for both sexes. From a practical perspective, this makes some sort of sense, although individual experiences may vary, of course.
Not an Exact Science
According to the calculator, an average length foreplay and sex session between a male and female involving three or four different positions burns off this many calories. Superdrug/Online Doctor
In what is a frankly ludicrous scenario, moderate intensity missionary for a wince-inducing two hours would burn up 570 calories for the man according to Superdrug's calculations, whereas the equivalent cowgirl would burn up 537 for a woman. The lower calorie counts for women are primarily linked to their lower average masses, and as aforementioned, it takes less effort to move less mass.
That missionary marathon, by the way, is roughly equal to playing tennis for 46 minutes, swimming for 74 minutes, or walking for 9.3 kilometers (5.8 miles). The latter example is the equivalent of running for about 7.7 kilometers (4.8 miles) at a moderate pace, doing yoga for 143 minutes, or dancing for 95 minutes. So, theoretically, sex could be a viable form of exercise like more conventional forms.
If you’re curious, a man performing oral sex on a woman uses 40 calories, whereas a woman doing the same to a man uses 34. If you’d like to see the results for same-sex couples, or to work out how much energy the wheelbarrow position would consume, please dive into the mathematical model here.
This surprisingly comprehensive calculator doesn’t go into much detail regarding its methodology, but the designers, Fractl, seem to be a well-respected content agency that focuses on data presentation.
They reference various scientific concepts and papers, but they seem to get their basic calorific information from a somewhat tongue-in-cheek book called Position of the Day Playbook, which they state contains no references to any kind of scientific methodology. Perhaps there were some Fitbits involved.
Either way, as is abundantly clear by this point, this is not an exact science.
Whatever Floats Your Boat
Although there are plenty of minor disagreements, it’s almost certain that the most vigorous, active positions burn up the most calories, and men burn up slightly more than women on average because they have higher masses. Weigh more, and you’ll burn up more.
At present, though, it appears most of the calorie counts given are educated guesses put through vaguely scientific filters. For any weight-watchers out there, take a stand if you’re male, and do the cowgirl if you’re female – but we’d suggest that if you’re having sex mainly to burn of calories, your priorities are decidedly unusual.
Different strokes for different folks. David Tadevosian/Shutterstock