Using data from an undergraduate probability sample, we aimed to: (1) describe the prevalence and demographic characteristics of students who reported having engaged in rough sex with their current partner; (2) assess which sexual behaviors students consider to be rough sex; (3) describe the frequency with which participants report engaging in rough sex as well as their reports of initiating and liking rough sex, in relation to gender and sexual identity; and (4) examine predictors of rough sex frequency. Participants were 4998 students randomly sampled from a large Midwestern university who completed a confidential Internet-based survey (2453 women, 2445 men, 41 gender non-binary, 36 transgender or other gender non-conforming identities). Within these, 1795 individuals who reported a romantic/sexual partner of at least 3 months responded to questions about engaging, liking, and initiating rough sex. The most common behaviors participants considered to be rough sex were choking, hair pulling, and spanking. Transgender and gender non-binary students more often endorsed behaviors as rough sex. Also, rough sex was conceptualized as multidimensional, with one cluster being more consistent with earlier conceptualizations of rough sex (e.g., hair pulling, spanking) and the second cluster including behaviors such as choking, slapping, punching, and making someone have sex. About 80% of those with a current sexual or romantic partner engaged in rough sex with them and most who engaged it liked it. Bisexual women reported greater rough sex frequency and enjoyment (54.1% indicated enjoying it “very much”). Implications for sexuality research and education are discussed.
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The authors are grateful to the Dean’s Office at the Indiana University School of Public Health for their generous support of this research.
The study was supported through internal support from the Indiana University School of Public Health.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
The research involved human subjects and, as noted in the context, the institutional review board at Indiana University reviewed and approved study protocols and measures (Protocol 1912431788).
Participants reviewed an IRB-approved Study Information Sheet and indicated consent to participate prior to completing the survey.
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Herbenick, D., Fu, Tc., Valdivia, D.S. et al. What Is Rough Sex, Who Does It, and Who Likes It? Findings from a Probability Sample of U.S. Undergraduate Students. Arch Sex Behav 50, 1183–1195 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-021-01917-w
- Rough sex
- Sexual choking
- College sexuality