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The case for celibacy while training for endurance running...

Updated: Jun 28

...and the case against it !

*** If you are easily offended, please skip this blog update. There will be another soon enough!!


Training, not-dating and celibacy...

When I first started plotting and mapping the training for this #greatbigrun from Perth to Adelaide, I had vague intentions around remaining celibate for the entire duration. I was (am) single...so the task did not seem particularly arduous, and I had over the years come across some information on the benefits of abstinence to retain focus, and increase the competitive drive.


As any single person will tell you - dating is a time consuming business, so my interest in conserving energy was not based on the idea of sexual activity alone, but an avoidance of the cyclic drain on time and attention having to first connect with, then meet new people in hope of finding a match.


That said, being the type of person who likes to see a cross section of literature on any topic of interest, I began a deep dive into the 'word on athletes and sex' ...and well, the jury is out !


From the Sexual Activity before Sports Competition: A Systematic Review we have:


'The impact of sexual activity before a sport competition is still unclear, but most studies generally seem to exclude a direct impact of sexual activity on athletic aerobic and strength performance. The most important aspect seems to be the interval from the time of the sports competition that affects negatively the performance if it is shorter than 2 h. There are possible negative effects from some possible concurrent wrong behaviours such as smoking or alcohol abuse. There are no investigations about the effect of masturbation in this context. There is a need to clarify the effects of sexual activity on competition performance.'


Unsurprisingly, most of the research on this particular topic is focused on male athletes, and the immediate impact on competition rather than long term endurance training, but I did find some interesting articles none the less. Like this one in the 'Irish Times' discussing the differing physiological impacts of endurance training on the libido of men vs women (not exactly on topic, but still....)

...men engaged in higher intensities and greater durations of endurance training on a chronic basis (ie years) are significantly associated with decreased libido scores; speculated that the physical and mental fatigue induced by prolonged intense training may contribute to an individual’s reduced libido...

vs

Over the past two decades, research has demonstrated a strong link between acute exercise and physiological, ie genital sexual arousal in women, and my research has shown that activating the branch of the nervous system known as the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) can increase sexual arousal in women....contrary to what a lot of therapists have recommended in the past, which is that women should do something relaxing prior to engaging in sex – take a bubble bath, listen to relaxing music – my research suggests that women should do just the opposite: engage in something vigorous right before sex. Exercising prior to sex seems to ‘jump-start’ a woman’s sexual arousal.

And what about the case for chastity through yogic teachings...

Yoga is a significant part of my life (and training for the run), and it reaches beyond the physical practice to provide a platform of how to 'be' in life. I try to allow the 5 Yamas to guide my life:

  • Ahimsa (non-harming or non-violence in thought, word and deed)

  • Satya (truthfulness)

  • Asteya (non-stealing)

  • Brahmacharya (celibacy or ‘right use of energy’)

  • Aparigraha (non-greed or non-hoarding)

Guiding principles are open to interpretation, like all text, and different scholars have written about each of the Yamas... a common understanding of Brahmacharya is 'conservation of energy' ...and right now, for me, a potentially critical application:

'The fourth of the Yamas, Brahmacharya, is often translated as ‘celibacy’ or ‘chastity’, which doesn’t always make for a very popular Yama! Traditionally, ‘Brahmacharya’ was meant to encourage those involved in the practice of yoga to conserve their sexual energy, in favour of using that energy to further progress along the Yogic path.'

You can read more here.... and here.


** Some texts list 10 Yamas


Introverts, apps and intimacy...

I don't recall the exact moment that I decided that celibacy for the full duration of training was NOT what I wanted, and I am now spending more time than I care to admit down the rabbit hole of online dating - sigh !


As an introvert, my social cup is filled quickly and easily; I expected that 'not-dating' would be simple. Turns out, not so much and the lure to connect was stronger than I anticipated.



Needless to say that, like for everyone, dating for me is one part exciting and one part awkward; always an adventure. There is a process of natural attrition when talking to people online but there are some obvious exit points, or aspects of me / my life that are a 'hard no' for some:

  • I am vegan

  • I am a mother of four

  • I am deaf

Perfectly reasonable that one or a combination of these facts be off putting... now add that I am training for 20 odd hours a week (and this will increase over the next TWO years) and have an alarm that sounds at 4.30 am six days a week. I probably wouldn't date me either !

This usually leaves me with A-type personalities who are intensely attracted to the 'athleticism' of what I am doing but have less than zero interest in looking at art with me, or talking literature, or cannot comprehend my discomfort with competition or dislike of sport. OR people who have no interest in the 'who' but just need to scratch an itch...hmmm.


BUT over the last few months I have experienced the gift of spending time (and energy) with a chap who has significantly raised the bar of my expectations; he is wondrously kind and considerate with me...he makes me laugh; a full belly laugh, he is kind and patient, attentive and remembers amazing little details, and always happy to go along with whatever half baked plan I have offered up as an adventure... and the physical aspect often leaves me happily stunned.

However, we are both in agreement that our time together is limited and without an emotional connection beyond an unexpected friendship. So, in the world of online dating we both remain.


The challenge, as I see it, is now twofold... first, that I find a balance between the aspects of my life that are non-negotiable; parenting, work, yoga (teaching) and running / training, AND finding the human connection that I crave. Secondly, that someone, somehow, convince me that they are deserving of what remains of my time and attention (a radical idea for someone who has until recently been entirely unsure what she herself deserved...but that is a whole other world of words) - because if I offer it up, it is offered with an open heart and wide-eyed optimism, and more book recommendations anyone will know what to do with !


Because...social, cultural and faith based conditioning aside - and everyone reading this will have their own feelings and beliefs around sexual behaviour - sex is good for humans !


If feels good but it also;


1. Helps Keep Your Immune System Humming

2. Boosts Your Libido 3. Improves Women's Bladder Control 4. Lowers Your Blood Pressure 5. Counts as Exercise 6. Lowers Heart Attack Risk 7. Lessens Pain 8. May Make Prostate Cancer Less Likely 9. Improves Sleep 10. Eases Stress


And if that wasn't enough - daily sexual activity for the win...

Sex is evergreen, hot and all things nice. There really aren't enough words to describe the exhilarating moment of getting intimate with your partner. When lips and bodies touch, there are fireworks and explosions that make you feel like you're at the top of the world. With love, trust and understanding come intimacy and sex. This extremely intimate act not only gives you and your partner intense pleasure but also help you sleep well, relieve stress and release happy endorphins within the body. And not to forget, burns a ton of calories! With such amazing benefits at hand, why wouldn't you want to engage in sex every day?

** Another caveat here - safety first, overt consent, do what works for you within your own boundaries and enjoy! However, for a myriad of reasons you may need support to have a happy, healthy relationship with your body, sex or sexuality; resources can be found here;


Homelessness and human connection...

(if you're new here ...you'll be wondering what my ramblings above have to do with homelessness... super quick introduction; I am running across the Country to support orgs that assist people experiencing homelessness !)


Dating and intimacy, relationships and even friendships are complicated and hard to negotiate for everyone but for people experiencing homelessness, especially rough sleepers, there are a number of obvious factors that reduce the number of positive community interactions... and significantly impact the likelihood of 'romance'.


So, while I am debating the pros and cons of my personal life, and training for this #greatbigrun I am acutely aware that it is a luxury of sorts.


James Toomey, executive of operations and fundraising at Mission Australia says that homeless people often feel excluded from their communities.

“They are human like the rest of us and they deserve that human respect no matter what their circumstances are,” explains Toomey. “It can be very lonely living on the street and in my experience, if you take the time to talk to someone … they are usually very happy to have the company. “There’s nothing that can reinforce you feeling marginalised like people just ignoring you."

It doesn't take a great deal of imagination to understand that the craving for human connection and interaction doesn't go away just because a person is unhoused.

Dating and intimacy aside - we need human connection - a smile, a hello, a quick chat can help someone shift from basic survival mode into a more positive space.


I encourage anyone reading this far to explore further:


https://www.sbs.com.au/topics/voices/culture/article/2017/06/16/whats-best-way-help-homeless-person


https://nationalhealthfoundation.org/people-experiencing-homeless-deserve-kindness-too/


https://www.sbs.com.au/topics/voices/culture/article/2018/08/08/how-you-can-help-australias-homeless


...and here is a short film that I am sharing if only because I love it xx



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