Just this week, MMA fighter Ronda Rousey posed in body paint for Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue, proudly owning the sex appeal that has contributed to her star power. But this isn’t the first time Rousey has encouraged her audience to picture her in the nude. She once divulged on Jim Rome’s talk show for Showtime that her pre-fight prep includes having “as much sex as possible” to raise her testosterone levels. Of course, men and women have testosterone (men just have 20 times more of it), and sex can make levels go up. The hypothesis seems to be that more testosterone equals more aggression equals fighting prowess.
Does this method have any scientific footing?
Even though we culturally associate testosterone with male aggression, the science doesn’t definitively point to a link between the hormone and increased anger. So the first caveat about Rousey’s pre-fight routine is that we don’t necessarily know that testosterone improves fighting prowess. We also don’t know whether Ronda’s ritual is actually working to boost her levels (although it’s likely she’s running her own blood tests). For each study (and there are not a lot on women’s sexuality) that shows sex upping testosterone levels in women, there are a handful of others that show it doesn’t.
Recent research suggests that sexual thoughts (as opposed to watching porn or masturbation) might be the most reliable determiner of whether or not testosterone goes up in women. In a 2011 study, 79 women were instructed to read aloud and imagine themselves in three fantasy scenarios: an everyday interaction with a postman; an intimidating job interview; and a great sexual encounter. Scientists found that thinking about sex raised testosterone levels in women who aren’t on birth control (often considered to be a muddler of results because it’s a hormone treatment) within 15 minutes of reading the scenario. The results were far more compelling than multiple studies that showed no increase in testosterone levels in women watching erotic films (unless they masturbated to orgasm). Perhaps because those porn-written fantasies just weren’t their cup of tea.
Even if Rousey managed to boost her testosterone levels via orgasm or sexual thoughts, it’s uncertain that her levels would remain higher for very long. Unlike for men, whose testosterone levels remain elevated the morning after sex, the effect for women can be fleeting. Unless Rousey is hopping off her partner and onto the mat 15 to 20 minutes after having sex—it’s not likely that her sexual sparring is contributing to her ability to hyperextend anybody’s elbows within 30 seconds. What complicates things further is that everyone is different: A recent study emphasized that a woman’s hormonal makeup, life experiences and genetics might play a role in determining how her testosterone levels change.
Ronda’s better off remembering her hottest sexual encounters from inside the cage, possibly revving up her testosterone and her competitive advantage just before the fight begins.