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Can anything spice up a roll in the hay more than worrying about how many calories you’re burning while you do it? Impossible, right? So let’s take a look at the energy expenditure of various ways of having sex, as calculated by the world’s greatest scientific minds. And when I say scientific minds, I mostly mean people who work in marketing.

This post was inspired by some “new research” that landed in my inbox from one of those companies that prescribes drugs by mail order to treat erectile dysfunction, genital herpes, and hair loss (among other conditions). They compared the calorie burn per minute in various sex positions, and are but the latest in a long line of marketing companies to do so.

For example: The fine print on their calculator notes the data was derived from “previous articles” on the subject. Only one such article is linked; it’s from the noted reproductive health journal Marie Claire. Marie Claire, in turn, cites GolfSupport.com. The original article from esteemed journal GolfSupport.com seems to be unavailable, but I found articles citing that company’s CEO on the subject of calorie burn during sex. The CEO (name: Gary Lockwood) appears to actually/also be the CEO of a company called 24/7 Fitness, which reportedly studied the subject by having people wear FitBits during sex. (I am not confident that I have yet found the end of the trail, but this is as far as I got before my article was due.)

Fitbits, you will be shocked to learn, are not very accurate at calculating calories burned, and as far as I can tell, have not been validated to gauge the physical activity that occurs during sex. The devices rely on heart rate to determine calorie burn, and I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb to suggest heart rate might be elevated during sex for reasons other than one’s use of energy for exercise.

How can I burn the most calories during sex?

Okay, now we’re asking the real questions. If we assume that accuracy doesn’t matter (gym machines aren’t very accurate either), how can we use the best of science and science-adjacent marketing statements to turn our next opportunity for passionate lovemaking into a killer workout?

First, assume a ridiculous position. The email that started this chain of inquiry noted the “butter churner” is the position that burns the most calories. This position involves a man and a woman, presumably outfitted with a penis and a vagina, respectively. The woman is required to do what looks like a shoulderstand,while the man somehow remains on top of her while also thrusting…downward? Into her? The calculator says the man will burns 211 calories per 30 minutes of “activity, and doesn’t give a number for the woman.

If you’ve ever done a shoulderstand in a yoga class, it’s an athletic feat even without somebody thrusting into you. I am not convinced that the position, as illustrated and obliquely described on a variety of websites, actually exists, or that anybody has ever done it for a full 30 minutes. This position was not mentioned in the original, acclaimed research from 24/7 Fitness, which makes me wonder if the results might have been fudged along the way.

If you need an alternative to the butter churner, the USDA calculates that a 200-pound man would burn the same number of calories doing half an hour of gardening.

No, for real, how do I budget my sex calories??

Alright, look. Calories burned during any activity depend on three things: how hard you’re working, how big you are (bigger people burn more calories), and how long you keep at the activity.

Then you’ll want to compare your calorie burn during that activity to the calories you would burn just sitting around doing nothing. That same 200-pound man would expend 54 calories sitting around watching TV for half an hour (again, according to USDA data, bless them).

A study (a real one) from Montreal found that among “young healthy couples” (average age 22), sex counts for approximately 6 METs, or metabolic equivalents, putting it in the same category of “moderate exercise” as a brisk walk. They also found that the average time to have sex, in this population, was 25 minutes. We should all be getting at least 150 minutes per week of exercise at this level, so you may replace some of your brisk walks with sex, if you like; make sure to use a timer.

On the other hand, a group of nutrition, obesity, and exercise researchers figured that sex is more realistically 3 METs for most of us, and lasts on average for 6 minutes, bringing the calorie count down to a level that’s pretty much useless as exercise (although as the US guidelines for physical activity remind us, every minute of exercise counts.)

If you’d like to meet the guidelines for aerobic exercise, you can have sex six times for 25 minutes, or 25 times for six minutes, in the butter churner position or in any other that you like. But since our bodies compensate for the calories burned during exercise, it makes more sense to simply have as much sex as you like and then calculate your overall energy expenditure based on changes in your weight. We’ve linked a spreadsheet here, in case you and your partner would like to fill it out in bed together.

  



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