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Sex study explores 'bad' orgasms

Orgasms don't always mean a sexual encounter is positive, find psychologists.

  • A new study finds that reaching an orgasm doesn't always indicate the sexual encounter was pleasurable.
  • A variety of reasons were reported by participants for "bad" orgasms.
  • Communication is key to improving sexual experiences, maintain the scientists.


The psychology of human sexual behavior is often not what you'd expect. Even if sex is consensual and leads to an orgasm, that experience can still be very negative, reveals a new study.

The study was co-authored by Sara B. Chadwick, a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan, Miriam Francisco, and Sari M. van Anders, a professor at Queen's University. The researchers got interested in figuring out whether "bad" orgasms can exist after finding out through other research that orgasms are far from simple.

"There seems to be a widespread assumption that orgasms during consensual sex are always positive, but research had never explored the possibility that they might be negative and/or non-positive under some circumstances," explained the psychologists.

The study involved 726 adult subjects, recruited through online ads. The researchers looked at orgasmic experiences during forced sex, consensual but unwanted sex, and while being pressured to have an orgasm. 289 of the subjects gave descriptions of their bad orgasms.

In an interview with Psypost, Chadwick and van Anders shared that people shouldn't assume that just because their partner reached an orgasm they had an enjoyable experience.

"People who have had orgasms during unwanted or undesirable encounters should note that their orgasm does not mean they liked it or secretly 'wanted' what was happening — it is okay to have mixed or even entirely negative feelings about a sexual encounter where you had an orgasm," explained the scientists.

Rutgers psychology professor Barry Komisaruk on "Why Some Women Can't Have Orgasms"

How does sex end up being bad even with an orgasm? The participants explained scenarios ranging from being pressured to have an orgasm just to please an unhappy partner to experiencing emotional detachment, frustrations or even feelings of being betrayed by their bodies. Some religious participants felt shame and guilt afterwards.

The authors say that some men regard the orgasms of their partners as a "masculinity achievement," leading to women feeling the need to have an orgasm to assuage their male partner's ego.

Factors like sexual orientation and gender identity also have an influence. Bisexual subjects described the pressure to orgasm to "prove" their bisexuality to partners of other genders. Some transgender participants viewed orgasms as reminders "of being in the wrong body."

On the other hand, bad orgasms could in some cases lead to better outcomes, especially with regards to communication between partners.

The researchers shared that in order to have good sex, it's important to pay attention not only to the clear needs of their partners but also the unspoken cues like nonverbal communication and gestures. A partner could be ready to finish the sexual encounter even if it hasn't resulted in an orgasm.

Pushing someone to have sex or continue with it when they don't want to can lead to feelings of coercion and being ignored.

"People can have orgasms during unwanted sex, sex that has complicated, mixed-feeling moments, or even just mediocre/boring sex. Orgasm does not automatically make the sex 'great' and it does not invalidate negative feelings about certain parts of the encounter or the encounter in general," concluded the psychologists.

You can check out their study "When Orgasms Do Not Equal Pleasure: Accounts of 'Bad' Orgasm Experiences During Consensual Sexual Encounters" in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Thinking Yourself to Orgasm

The relation between the mind and sexual response is still fertile ground ...

Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Lee Jae-Sung of Korea Republic lies on the pitch holding his knee during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Korea Republic and Germany at Kazan Arena on June 27, 2018 in Kazan, Russia.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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