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.

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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.

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