Sex is all fun and games until someone gets hurt. And, for older men, pain in flagrante delicto is most likely to be a product of involuntary clenching in the calf, thigh, and hamstring triggered by prolonged thrusting. The mid-romp charley horse results from a muscle spasm that occurs when the gastrocnemius, soleus, and quadriceps muscles lock in a contracted position. Though these sorts of cramps can happen in any muscle, legs are most commonly affected, and there are biological reasons why men become increasingly prone to them during sex.
“Men get charley horses or muscle cramps in the calf muscles because they are contracting their toes and ankle muscles while having sex. It’s a very common position to be in,” explains physical therapist Lisa Folden, DPT. “Over-contraction occurs when the muscle contraction is being held for prolonged periods of time, but sometimes just a few minutes, and the muscle goes into full spasm, getting stuck in the contraction.”
Charley horses are typically a result of a combination of exertion, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalances. People tend to sweat during sex. Key electrolytes involved in muscle contraction and relaxation like potassium, sodium, and magnesium are released through this sweat, throwing the body off balance and triggering both spasms and cramps. It doesn’t help that men rarely stretch before sex and often drink alcohol prior, exacerbating mild dehydration. Although this happens to guys a lot, pregnant people are also prone to charley horses because of reduced blood flow to their legs, which can contribute to cramping as well.
“Aging makes all of these factors more plausible, but in general, anyone can experience this with or without the aforementioned deficits,” Folden says.
Another reason people get leg cramps during sex is that muscles naturally contract during sexual arousal. In many ways, a charley horse is a sign that sex is going well.
“One of the common bodily changes with high arousal is muscle tension, and it can happen all over the body,” says sexologist Carol Queen, Ph.D. “Think sheet-clutching, toes spreading out, arching backwards, and other elements of hot sex that, when you analyze the phenomena, are associated with the musculature.”
Queen notes that men may be more at risk for charley horses because of how they have sex — mainly because they thrust their pelvises, which not only engages the pelvis and hips, but the butt and legs as well. Certain sex positions can make this worse. Missionary and doggy-style increase the likelihood of pain. Laying beneath someone does not.
For guys eager to stay active, some basic planning can help. Drink water. Eat bananas. Stretch (though maybe not right beforehand, which will kill the mood).
“Lengthening the calves with a good old-fashioned lunging calf stretch for 30 seconds will do the job,” Folden says. “It may seem like a lot of work for a natural activity, but think about the reward that is in store for you. There’s no need to ruin a good climax with a charley horse.”
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