You know how great you feel after an orgasm? That satisfying release of sexual energy followed by deep, relaxing sleep? It’s gotta be because you had an incredible workout without leaving bed, right? 

Erm, not exactly. 

Don’t get us wrong: “Sex is a fun way to burn calories,” says Kristin Trame, an intimacy advisor and sex expert at adult store chain Lover’s Lane. But she also explains that it’s not the equivalent of an hour at the gym. “Burning calories isn’t really the point of most sexual encounters,” she says. 

If you’ve ever been curious about how much of a workout you’re getting from sex, then you’ll want to continue reading. Rescripted spoke with several intimacy experts to help us better understand the health benefits of sexual intercourse — and why orgasms shouldn’t replace traditional exercise. 

couple laughing on the living room floor

An orgasm may only burn 3-5 calories

Although your body gets somewhat of a workout during a sexual encounter, the orgasm won’t tip the scales when it comes to burning calories. 

“It may be tempting to view orgasms as moments of high energy,” says Aliyah Moore, Ph.D., a certified sex therapist with the sexual wellness site Sexual Alpha. “But in reality, the number of calories burned during [orgasm] is relatively low. According to most estimates, an orgasm may only burn about three to five calories.” 

Another reason why we shouldn’t look to orgasms as significant forms of exercise is because they don’t last very long: “During an orgasm, the muscles contract and relax several times, allowing people to burn calories just like any other exercise,” says Vicki Lyons, a sexual wellness expert and the chief editor at Bodyjoys. “However, an orgasm typically only lasts around 20-30 seconds on average, depending on the person.” 

couple being quiet in bed

How to burn more calories during sex

It’s important to remember that sexual intercourse cannot (and should not) replace conventional exercise: “Intense workouts like running burn approximately double the calories in the same amount of time as sexual intercourse, regardless of the position or positions you engage in,” says Trame. “Sexual intercourse and traditional workouts have some similarities, such as an increase in heart rate, muscle engagement, and energy expenditure,” says Dr. Moore. “But [sex] generally lacks the consistent intensity and structure found in traditional workouts such as running, weightlifting, or aerobics.” 

There are a few ways to get more of a workout during sex though, which can boost your satisfaction levels. 

Both Dr. Moore and Trame recommend trying positions other than missionary: “Positions that incorporate leg movement are going to burn more calories,” says Trame. “For women, a cowgirl position where the woman uses her legs to control the penetration and speed will help, as the more large muscle groups you can incorporate, the more calories you will burn. For men, the wheelbarrow is one where the most calories can be burned, as it involves thrusting of the hips, use of the legs for balance and the arms for bracing their partner.”

“Think about positions that need balance and muscle from both parties,” advises Dr. Moore. “For example, standing poses that involve the doggie position or variants against the wall work the upper body, legs, and core. Because it takes more work to maintain balance and posture in these positions, they may result in a higher calorie burn.”

While it can be fun to experiment with new forms of exercise in the bedroom, the experts agree that squeezing in a supplemental workout shouldn’t be your main priority when getting frisky with your partner: “Calories really don’t matter when it comes to sex!” says Trame. 

“The goals of sexual intimacy should be comfort, connection, and pleasure for both parties,” says Dr. Moore. 

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Even though you won’t be replacing your workout routine with sex, getting intimate can still provide a ton of health benefits. 

“One of the significant benefits of sexual intercourse is the reduction of stress,” says Dr. Moore. “Hormones like endorphins and oxytocin get released during sex, especially after orgasm, which can promote feelings of relaxation and happiness. This hormonal release can help relieve stress and anxiety and promote a sense of well-being and contentment.”

Since sex can increase your heart rate and blood flow, it can also positively impact your cardiovascular health! “When combined with a healthy lifestyle, regular sexual activity has been linked to lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart disease,” says Dr. Moore. She does emphasize, however, that sex is “a potential contributor to a heart-healthy lifestyle, not a substitute for regular exercise.” 

man lifting a woman in an embrace

Other potential benefits of sexual activity include improved sleep (thanks to the release of oxytocin and other relaxation hormones), and an increased “feeling of closeness, reliance, and familiarity among partners,” says Dr. Moore. 

Since sexual activity isn’t the equivalent of traditional exercise, the experts advise not putting so much emphasis on how many calories we can burn, but on how sex allows us to build intimacy and emotional happiness:

“Reducing [sex and orgasms] to a mere calorie count can diminish its intrinsic value and put undue pressure on the experience,” says Dr. Moore. “Rather than focusing on calorie burn, it is more meaningful to consider the positive effects that sex can have on mental and emotional well-being.”

Sarene Leeds holds an M.S. in Professional Writing from NYU, and is a seasoned journalist, having written and reported on subjects ranging from TV and pop culture to health, wellness, and parenting over the course of her career. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal, Vulture, SheKnows, and numerous other outlets. A staunch mental health advocate, Sarene also hosts the podcast “Emotional Abuse Is Real.” Visit her website here, or follow her on Instagram or Twitter.