Mexican national team coach Miguel Herrera made comments about abstinence at the upcoming World Cup, setting off a media outburst. (Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images)

Since the days of the ancient Greeks, there have been theories about sexual abstinence improving athletic performance. In his article “A World Cup Quandary: Sex or Abstinence,” Josh Goodman, Associated Press Bureau Chief for Colombia, Venezuela, and Panama, summed the issue up this way:  “If you’re intending to score in a World Cup match, should you score the night before?”

Goodman, who will be in Brazil covering the World Cup, which opens June 12, joined Bill Littlefield on Only A Game.

BL: Josh, obviously nothing says “sex talk” like the World Cup. Tell us about Mexican coach Miguel Herrera’s comments that started the current discussion.

JG: He gave an interview to Reforma newspaper where he basically said, “Guys, you can keep your pants on for 40 days,” and immediately there was a bit of a media outburst about this, and then the next day he clarified he wasn’t banning sex outright, he just thought that his players needed to show a bit of restraint and discipline.

BL: Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari took less of a hard line when advising his players on their personal affairs. What did he tell them to avoid?

JG: I mean — this is a typical Brazilian response, a lot more casual — he just said, “Avoid any bedroom antics, no hanging from ceilings, nothing that’s too demanding on the back.” And that’s, you know, that seems to be a Brazilian attitude overall, not just for athletes.

BL: [Laughing] I can imagine the dismay among the Brazilian players when they were told not to hang from the ceiling.

JG: Yeah, he really said that, too. I mean, he’s got a great sense of humor, Luiz Felipe Scolari. I think he was just doing it tongue-in-cheek. This issue comes up every four years. Adult prostitution is legal in Brazil, and you know, the thong bikini is basically a source of national pride. If there’s ever a place where there’s lots of temptations, I think it would be Brazil.

BL: As you note, the idea that engaging in sex prior to a big athletic event could diminish an athlete’s performance dates back millennia. But is there any scientific proof that it helps or hurts?

JG: Not really. I mean, the experts I spoke to — sports medical experts — say that this is an old urban myth. There haven’t been exhaustive studies, although as one researcher pointed out to me, it wouldn’t be that hard to get people to volunteer for such studies. But in fact, there really haven’t been that many studies.

One person told me normal intercourse between married partners typically consumes about 50 calories, about the same as walking up two flights of stairs. So, these are athletes in the prime of their youth, that’s nothing to them. What really bothers people or concerns coaches is all the revelry and boozing and partying that can go on in hotels.

BL: [Legendary baseball manager] Casey Stengel used to say that it’s not sex before the game that hurts. It’s the players chasing after somebody to be their partner that takes all the time and makes their on-field performance less impressive.

JG: That’s exactly right. These are young men at the prime of their youth, the testosterone is sort of leaking off the ceiling — and heck, it’s sort of to be expected. What I find interesting, though, and we note in the article, is this is only a concern when men are in competition. You do not hear this at the Women’s World Cup, or in women’s competition events. So, there’s obviously a lot of sexism in how this issue is viewed and sort of antiquated views about how men can’t control themselves. Perhaps with some truth, but in any case, I’ll just point out that it’s not an issue when women are playing. They’re much more disciplined, it appears, the night before a competition.

BL: Josh, our program is broadcast in the United States, so I would be remiss if I didn’t ask where the American team stands on this issue, and I was going to ask what position the American coaches take but it’s not possible to ask questions here without double entendre sneaking in.

JG: Well, the German-born coach of team USA, Jürgen Klinsmann, just the other day said that he has a very “casual” view of this issue. And I assume by “casual” he doesn’t mean casual sex is encouraged, just that they’re not going to impose any restrictions. I saw an interview with him, and he was very complimentary of the other coaches’ views, and he basically said that every team and every culture has its own views of what players should be doing before a match. And he didn’t have any criticisms of the Mexican coach or any of the other coaches who’ve taken positions on this issue.