When Orgasms Do Not Equal Pleasure: Accounts of “Bad” Orgasm Experiences During Consensual Sexual Encounters

Abstract

Orgasms during consensual sex are often assumed to be wholly positive experiences. This assumption overshadows the possibility that orgasm experiences during consensual sex could be “bad” (i.e., negative and/or non-positive). In the present study, we employed an online survey to explore the possibility that orgasm experiences could be “bad” during consensual sex by asking participants of diverse gender and sexual identities (N = 726, M age = 28.42 years, SD = 7.85) about a subset of potential bad orgasm experiences. Specifically, we asked participants whether they have ever had an orgasm during coerced sex, compliant sex, and/or when they felt pressured to have an orgasm (i.e., orgasm pressure). We also asked participants who had such an experience to describe it, resulting in qualitative descriptions from 289 participants. Using mixed quantitative and qualitative analyses, we found compelling evidence that orgasm experiences can be “bad” during consensual sex. Specifically, many participants described their experiences in negative and/or non-positive ways despite orgasm occurrence, reported that their orgasms were less pleasurable compared to other experiences, and suggested that their orgasm experiences had negative impacts on their relationships, sexuality, and/or psychological health. Participants also suggested that social location shaped their bad orgasm experiences, citing gender and sexual identity, gender identity conflict, race/ethnicity, and religion as important to their perceptions of and responses to their experiences. Results directly challenge the assumption that orgasms during consensual sex are always and/or unilaterally positive experiences.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Some research has arguably shown that orgasm experiences can be bad during consensual sex for clinical reasons. For example, research has shown that many men experience stress, shame, and guilty associated with premature ejaculation (Porst et al., 2007; Symonds et al., 2003). And, studies have found that women and men can experience painful orgasms because of medical interventions, side effects from medications, or comorbid sexual dysfunctions (Finger, Lund, & Slagel, 1997; Gordon, Panahian-Jand, McComb, Melegari, & Sharp, 2003; McCabe et al., 2016; Mogorovich et al., 2013).

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Funding

This study was funded by faculty discretionary funds.

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Correspondence to Sari M. van Anders.

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Chadwick, S.B., Francisco, M. & van Anders, S.M. When Orgasms Do Not Equal Pleasure: Accounts of “Bad” Orgasm Experiences During Consensual Sexual Encounters. Arch Sex Behav 48, 2435–2459 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-019-01527-7

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Keywords

  • Orgasm
  • Gender
  • Sexual pressure
  • Coercion
  • Compliance
  • Feminist science