Exercise Improves Self-Reported Sexual Function Among Physically Active Adults

Kirkpatrick B. Fergus, Thomas W. Gaither, Nima Baradaran, David V. Glidden, Andrew J. Cohen, Benjamin N. Breyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1236-1245
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Sexual Medicine
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Arousal
  • Erectile Dysfunction
  • Exercise
  • Female Sexual Dysfunction
  • Metabolic Equivalents
  • Orgasm

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Urology


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