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The Rough Stuff: Understanding Aggressive Consensual Sex


Research on sexual behavior often characterizes rough sex as sexual aggression and as violent or abusive in nature. In a sample of 734 male and female undergraduates, we examined the extent of rough sexual acts in romantic relationships, the triggers for those acts, and how rough sex differs from “typical” sex. Participants were asked their definition of rough sex, questions regarding sexual aggression and behaviors during rough sex, and abusive behaviors in the relationship. Findings indicate that rough sex is triggered by curiosity and a need for novelty, and that both men and women often initiate rough sexual behaviors. Consensual rough sex typically results in little violence and only superficial injuries such as scratches, bruises, and welts. Rough sex does not correlate with violence in the relationship or abuse. However, rough sexual behaviors were increased in situations that involved male sexual jealousy. Being separated from a sexual partner was the second most common trigger for rough sex, particularly for men. Aspects of rough sex, such as increased semen displacement and decreased latency for female orgasm are discussed.

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Correspondence to Rebecca L. Burch.

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Table 5 Write in responses for behaviors engaged in during rough sex, in order of most common to least common
Table 6 Sex differences in how rough sex differs from “typical” intercourse. Findings are organized with greatest sex differences first, then by lowest to highest frequency
Table 7 How rough sex differs from typical sex, separated by sex

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Burch, R.L., Salmon, C. The Rough Stuff: Understanding Aggressive Consensual Sex. Evolutionary Psychological Science 5, 383–393 (2019).

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  • Rough sex
  • Sexual aggression
  • Sexual jealousy
  • Semen displacement