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Are Vegans Better at Sex?

Updated: Jan 30, 2023

Scientific evidence debunks the belief that vegans have healthier sex lives

Lions having sex
Non-vegan sex. Shutterstock image 98159810 by Oleg Znamenskiy.

This article is in response to This Is Why Vegans Have Better Sex, by Christopher Kokoski.


Claim 1: vegans have a reputation for being good lovers

“But what you may not know is that vegans also have a reputation for being great in bed.” Christopher Kokoski.

Creating this “reputation” was the objective of an infamous ad campaign by PETA that showed an injured woman after supposedly having sex with her vegan boyfriend. The campaign was denounced for promoting violence against women. The ad can still be found on YouTube:



The misogynistic leanings of PETA have been denounced in many places.

  • Time: PETA compares rape to eating meat.

  • Ms. magazine: PETA does not support the ethical treatment of women. This contradicts their name because, technically speaking, women are animals, too.

  • BuzzFeed: like Donald Trump, PETA encourages men to “grab a pussy”

  • PETA Kills Animals is a website devoted to expose the practice of PETA of killing cats and dogs by the thousands, and other outrages perpetrated by this organization. The link takes you to a list of misogynistic things that PETA has done.

If vegans have a reputation for anything, is for being self-righteous and preachy. The article by Mr. Kokoski is just another example of that.


Let me examine his other claims in the light of scientific evidence.


Claim 2: vegans have higher red blood cells and better tissue oxygenation— it is actually the opposite

“A vegan diet, which is high in various nutrients and low in saturated fat and cholesterol, can help to enhance blood viscosity. This allows more oxygen to reach the muscles, which aids athletic performance.” Christopher Kokoski.

There are actually several claims embedded in this paragraph:


a) That a vegan diet increases blood viscosity.

b) That an increase in blood viscosity is healthy.

c) That a vegan diet allows more oxygen to reach the muscles.


What Mr. Kokoski probably means by “blood viscosity” is an increase in hematocrit: the density of red blood cells (erythrocytes) in the blood. Erythrocytes contain hemoglobin, an iron-containing protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to all the tissues in the body. Athletes know quite well that a higher hematocrit improves their performance. Erythropoietin is a hormone that can be taken to increase red bloods cells. However, it is forbidden in sport competitions, being considered a doping agent. Another way to increase the hematocrit is to live for a while in high altitude places, like Bolivia.


However, going vegan does not increase red blood cells. It is actually the opposite.


Increasing red blood cells requires two things that are abundant in red meat and absent in vegetables: heme iron and vitamin B12. Each molecule of hemoglobin contains four atoms of iron, which are required to bind oxygen. Therefore, producing red bloods cells requires that we absorb iron in our food. Although iron is present in some vegetables, it is difficult to absorb it in our gut. However, iron that is already bond to hemoglobin or to myoglobin - a similar oxygen-binding protein present in the muscles - is absorbed readily. Red meat is basically muscle that is rich in myoglobin - that’s why it is red, myoglobin is red, like hemoglobin. Hence, eating enough red meat is the best way to have healthy levels of red cells.


Indeed, anemia is a frequent health problem in vegans. One study (Waldmann et al., 2004) found that 40% of young vegan women in Germany had iron deficiency, even though there was enough (non heme) iron in their diet. A study (Tong et al., 2019) of large samples of people in the UK found that people who did not eat enough red meat - not just vegans and vegetarians, but also poultry and fish eaters - had 3.7% less hemoglobin and a higher risk to develop anemia.


Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is necessary for DNA synthesis during red blood cell production. Its deficiency causes megaloblastic anemia, another form of erythrocyte deficiency. Vegans must take vitamin B12 supplements to avoid it (Selinger et al., 2019), because it cannot be synthesized by the body and its main source is animal foods like meat, liver, eggs and milk. This type of anemia is a concern in babies with vegan mothers who are exclusively breastfed (Chalouhi et al., 2008; Shinwell and Gorodischer, 1982). If not given B12 supplements in time, these children can develop lifelong neurological deficiencies.


Therefore, it is completely false that vegans have higher a red blood cell count than omnivores or a better oxygen supply to their muscles. It’s the opposite: unless vegans take iron and vitamin B12 supplements, they risk anemia. This is particularly true for young women who lose a lot of blood during menstruation.


As for blood viscosity, it is actually a liability because it increases the risk of stroke. That’s precisely the reason why taking erythropoietin to increase athletic performance is prohibited in athletic competitions and risky. High blood viscosity is not a good thing.


Claim 3: vegans have stronger erections - unproven

I couldn’t find any evidence of this. The PubMed search (vegan[Title/Abstract]) AND (erection[Title/Abstract]) yielded 0 hits.


Mr. Kokoski cites the following paper as evidence (Kostis and Dobrzynski, 2014): The Effect of Statins on Erectile Dysfunction: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Trials. As the title indicates, this study has nothing to do with veganism. It simply shows that taking statins to lower cholesterol counters erectile dysfunction in older men. Following my doctor’s recommendation, I started taking rosuvastatin last year. Both my parents died of cardiovascular disease, so keeping my cholesterol in check as I age seems like a good idea.


Mr. Kokoski argues that a vegan diet lowers cholesterol, and that this may indirectly improve erections. I found two papers that addressed this issue. The first (Sanders and Key, 1987) reported that cholesterol was lower in male but not in female vegans. Blood pressure in vegans was the same as in omnivores, but vegans had higher diastolic blood pressure. The second study (Resnicow et al., 1991) also found that vegans have lower cholesterol and low-density-lipoprotein (“bad”) cholesterol, and normal high-density-lipoprotein (“good”) cholesterol. So, it is true that vegans have lower cholesterol. This is not surprising, since vegans eat less cholesterol, which is abundant in animal foods like meat, eggs and seafood.


I doubt that cholesterol has any effect on erections in normal men.


Ideas about cholesterol have changed lately with the realization that it is important for brain function, particularly during childhood and adolescence. Older men like me could go vegan to improve their cholesterol but, personally, I’d rather take statins. My erections are fine, thank you very much. When they are not, I’ll take some Viagra with my steak.


Claim 4: vegan men have more sperm and higher testosterone - not true

We start to see a pattern here. When Mr. Kokoski says that vegans are better at sex, he seems to mean men with stronger erections pounding their girlfriends into the wall until they have to wear a neck brace. Like that poor woman in the PETA video. Is veganism a path to toxic masculinity?


Anyway, let’s go back to the science. Mr. Kokoski cites another paper (Kljajic et al., 2021). This is a study with a small sample size (10 vegans and 10 omnivores) published in an obscure journal, but it does show that the vegans have higher sperm count and motility. However, this has nothing to do with the quality of sex, unless the goal is to get pregnant.


This paper (Key et al., 1990) shows that vegan men have 7% higher total testosterone, but actually 3% lower free testosterone. They also have a whopping 11% higher estradiol, the female sex hormone. The difference between total and free testosterone is due to a higher level in vegans of sex hormone-binding globulin, a protein in the blood that sequesters testosterone. These results are confirmed by another paper (Allen et al., 2000). A review paper (Allen and Key, 2000) concludes:


“These studies have not demonstrated that variations in dietary composition have any long-term important effects on circulating bioavailable sex hormone levels in men.”


Claim 5: vegans are more compassionate and hence likely to treat their lovers better

“In addition, vegans typically possess deep compassion, which can carry over into the bedroom.” Christopher Kokoski.

The vegans I know are good people who have the good taste of not being too preachy about their eating habits. They don’t seem to be more or less compassionate than the regular guy.


However, I know a different type of vegan, the animal liberationist, who is not compassionate at all. They are actually quite dangerous if you get in their sights. They will burn your car, flood our house and leave bombs at your door. Here is an article about them.


Does veganism have any effects on the mind?

“Veganism has also been linked with lower levels of stress and anxiety, which can further improve sexual performance.” Christopher Kokoski.

Sorry, Mr. Kokoski, but that is not true. A meta-analysis of several scientific studies (Dobersek et al., 2021) shows that meat consumption actually lowers depression and anxiety. This is true for both men and women.


Another paper (Sariyska et al., 2019) shows that vegans score high for care, sadness and spirituality, but lower for play. This means that your potential vegan lover is caring, religious, sad, and not very playful. Just the things to look for in a lover, right?


The paper also shows that vegans score lower for Machiavellism, narcissism and psychopathy. But, wait! The differences stopped being statistically significant when you corrected for gender. Perhaps because there are differences in these things between men and women. Go figure.


Vegans are also more predisposed to pathological eating behaviors (McLean et al., 2022). But we knew that already.


Claim 6: vegans have higher sex drives - unproven

Mr. Kokoski does not provide any evidence for this. I couldn’t find any, either. The PubMed search (vegan[Title/Abstract]) AND (sexual arousal[Title/Abstract]) produced 0 hits.


He assumes that, because vegans have “good circulation”, they have a higher sex drive. However, I already debunked the claim that vegans have better oxygenation of their tissues than omnivores (claim 2).


Claim 7: veganism relieves the symptoms of menopause - unproven

“According to new research, a plant-based diet can also help relieve the symptoms of menopause.” Christopher Kokoski.

Unfortunately, Mr. Kokoski does not provide any citation to this exciting new research.

“In case you’re wondering, soy isoflavones are estrogen-like compounds found in plant-based foods. They ‘deepfake’ estrogen in the body.” Christopher Kokoski.

Actually, pseudo-steroids and other endocrine disruptors are not a good thing. They are pollutants blamed for the feminization of male animals in the environment, and they may be feminizing men as well. If isoflavones mimic estrogen in women’s body, they would do the same in men’s bodies. Either veganism enhances femininity by mimicking estrogens, or they enhance masculinity by increasing testosterone. Which is it? You can’t have it both ways.


Maybe this is why vegan men have 11% higher estradiol (Key et al., 1990)? I don’t think female hormones would improve the sexual performance of men, do you?


And out-of-control estrogens are bad for women, too. They can induce breast and ovarian cancer. That is why we should avoid the parabens - which are endocrine disruptors - that are often used in cosmetics (Jiao et al., 2021).


Conclusions

Unlike Mr. Kokoski, who only cites two papers, I have provided 16 citations to peer-reviewed papers to address each one of his claims. These were selected as the most informative amongst many other papers I found in several searches of the PubMed database, the most complete repository of biomedical papers in the world.


Of the many claims in Mr. Kokoski’s article, only two have some validity: that vegans have lower cholesterol and higher sperm counts. However, neither of these things supports his general claim that vegans have better sex than omnivores. Quite the opposite: a vegan diet entails risks of anemia that, if not countered with iron and B12 supplements, can negatively impact your sex life.

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Hamlet, Shakespeare.

Why are vegans so adamant in defending that they are better in bed?


Is this just another propaganda move to make us accept their ideology?


Or does it reflect some insecurity that their vegan diet may actually lower their (male) sexual performance?


After all, there is some evidence in the papers I cite that veganism may have a feminizing effect in men - it increases a female hormone.


I would be happy to settle in that diet does not have a great effect on sexual performance, one way or the other. As long, of course, that pathological obesity is avoided.


But I think I have debunked the claims of PETA parroted by Mr. Kokoski.

Bullshit is the only animal product that vegans seem to consume in large quantities.

References

  1. Allen, N. E., Appleby, P. N., Davey, G. K., Key, T. J., 2000. Hormones and diet: low insulin-like growth factor-I but normal bioavailable androgens in vegan men. British journal of cancer 83, 95-97.

  2. Allen, N. E., Key, T. J., 2000. The effects of diet on circulating sex hormone levels in men. Nutr Res Rev 13, 159-184.

  3. Chalouhi, C., Faesch, S., Anthoine-Milhomme, M. C., Fulla, Y., Dulac, O., Chéron, G., 2008. Neurological consequences of vitamin B12 deficiency and its treatment. Pediatr Emerg Care 24, 538-541.

  4. Dobersek, U., Teel, K., Altmeyer, S., Adkins, J., Wy, G., Peak, J., 2021. Meat and mental health: A meta-analysis of meat consumption, depression, and anxiety. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr, 1-18.

  5. Jiao, L., Li, S., Zhai, J., Wang, D., Li, H., Chu, W., Geng, X., Du, Y., 2021. Propylparaben concentrations in the urine of women and adverse effects on ovarian function in mice in vivo and ovarian cells in vitro. J Appl Toxicol 41, 1719-1731.

  6. Key, T. J., Roe, L., Thorogood, M., Moore, J. W., Clark, G. M., Wang, D. Y., 1990. Testosterone, sex hormone-binding globulin, calculated free testosterone, and oestradiol in male vegans and omnivores. Br J Nutr 64, 111-119.

  7. Kljajic, M., Hammadeh, M. E., Wagenpfeil, G., Baus, S., Sklavounos, P., Solomayer, E. F., Kasoha, M., 2021. Impact of the Vegan Diet on Sperm Quality and Sperm Oxidative Stress Values: A Preliminary Study. J Hum Reprod Sci 14, 365-371.

  8. Kostis, J. B., Dobrzynski, J. M., 2014. The Effect of Statins on Erectile Dysfunction: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Trials. The journal of sexual medicine 11, 1626-1635.

  9. McLean, C. P., Moeck, E. K., Sharp, G., Thomas, N. A., 2022. Characteristics and clinical implications of the relationship between veganism and pathological eating behaviours. Eat Weight Disord 27, 1881-1886.

  10. Resnicow, K., Barone, J., Engle, A., Miller, S., Haley, N. J., Fleming, D., Wynder, E., 1991. Diet and serum lipids in vegan vegetarians: a model for risk reduction. J Am Diet Assoc 91, 447-453.

  11. Sanders, T. A., Key, T. J., 1987. Blood pressure, plasma renin activity and aldosterone concentrations in vegans and omnivore controls. Hum Nutr Appl Nutr 41, 204-211.

  12. Sariyska, R., Markett, S., Lachmann, B., Montag, C., 2019. What Does Our Personality Say About Our Dietary Choices? Insights on the Associations Between Dietary Habits, Primary Emotional Systems and the Dark Triad of Personality. Frontiers in psychology 10, 2591.

  13. Selinger, E., Kühn, T., Procházková, M., Anděl, M., Gojda, J., 2019. Vitamin B12 Deficiency Is Prevalent Among Czech Vegans Who Do Not Use Vitamin B12 Supplements. Nutrients 11.

  14. Shinwell, E. D., Gorodischer, R., 1982. Totally vegetarian diets and infant nutrition. Pediatrics 70, 582-586.

  15. Tong, T. Y. N., Key, T. J., Gaitskell, K., Green, T. J., Guo, W., Sanders, T. A., Bradbury, K. E., 2019. Hematological parameters and prevalence of anemia in white and British Indian vegetarians and nonvegetarians in the UK Biobank. Am J Clin Nutr 110, 461-472.

  16. Waldmann, A., Koschizke, J. W., Leitzmann, C., Hahn, A., 2004. Dietary iron intake and iron status of German female vegans: results of the German vegan study. Ann Nutr Metab 48, 103-108.

Copyright 2022 Hermes Solenzol

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