Are Orgasms Always a Good Thing?
New research explores "bad orgasm experiences" during consensual sex.
Posted Sep 20, 2019
This guest post was co-authored by Sara B. Chadwick and Dr. Sari van Anders.
If someone has an orgasm during consensual sex, people generally assume that the sex must have been good. However, in a recent study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers found that consensual sex can be bad even when orgasm occurs. They called these kinds of experiences “bad orgasm experiences.”
More specifically, the study reports that orgasms during consensual sex did not necessarily mean that the sex was wanted, the orgasm was wanted, the person was aroused, or that the sexual experience was enjoyable.
In the study, participants described experiences where they had an orgasm during sexual experiences that were negative and/or non-positive in three ways:
- Having an orgasm after being pressured into unwanted sex by a partner (the authors called this coerced sex in the article but clarify that the participants still classified it as consensual);
- Having an orgasm after agreeing to have sex even when they did not want to (the authors referred to this as compliant sex in the article; again, participants had classified it as consensual), and/or
- Having an orgasm after feeling pressured to have an orgasm (i.e., putting pressure on oneself or being pressured by a partner to orgasm).
While it might seem like the encounter must have become positive if the participant orgasmed, many participants described these experiences in negative ways even though their orgasm occurred.
How bad could orgasm experiences really be? Evidence suggests that the answer is: very bad.
Terms that the participants used to describe their experiences included “hollow and mechanical,” “irritating and uncomfortable,” “not a good experience,” and “mental torture,” among others.
Participants overwhelmingly reported that the orgasms they had during the encounter were less or not at all pleasurable compared to orgasms in other, non-pressured encounters. For example, many participants stated that the pressured orgasm felt “weaker” or “dull,” like a physical response with no associated pleasurable sensations, and/or physically the same but emotionally less pleasurable.
Bad orgasm experiences also had negative effects on participants’ relationships, sexuality, and psychological health. This was often because participants felt that having an orgasm invalidated their negative emotions, encouraged partners’ problematic behavior, and/or led their partner to dismiss the participant’s expressed concerns. For example, one participant who brought up issues with a partner’s sexual conduct said that their partner responded by saying, “You enjoyed it, didn’t you?” as if the orgasm overrode the partner's problematic behavior.
Participants also suggested that stereotypes and expectations related to their identities compounded the negative feelings associated with bad orgasm experiences. For example, women felt pressured to orgasm in order to bolster men’s egos, and men reported feeling pressured to orgasm during every sexual encounter in order to fulfill masculinity stereotypes.
Additionally, bisexual participants reported feeling that they had to orgasm with partners of different genders to “prove” their bisexuality. Some trans and/or nonbinary participants said that having orgasms, in general, triggered gender identity conflict (some participants referred to this as gender dysphoria); though for others, gender identity conflict set the stage for unwanted orgasms and/or being pressured to have sex or orgasm when they did not want to.
What Can We Conclude?
Clearly, bad orgasm experiences were related to coercion, compliance, and/or orgasm pressure in ways that were contextualized by people’s relationships to identity stereotypes and experiences. Together, the results of this study send an important message: contrary to popular belief, orgasm during consensual sex is not always a pleasurable experience.
Having an orgasm does not mean that the sexual encounter or orgasm was enjoyable, or that the negative feelings of the person who orgasmed no longer matter or have disappeared. Furthermore, identity stereotypes and experiences create added pressures for individuals that can exacerbate the reasons why an orgasm experience is bad.
Overall, it is problematic and potentially harmful to assume that orgasm always equates pleasurable, wanted sex. Sexual partners should communicate their concerns and desires even when orgasm occurs because orgasm does not necessarily mean that the sex was wanted, arousal was present, or that the experience overall was “good.”
Guest Author Bios: Sara B. Chadwick, M.S. is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Joint Program in Psychology and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan conducting research on gender and sexuality. Sari M. van Anders, Ph.D. is the Canada 150 Research Chair in Social Neuroendocrinology, Sexuality, and Gender/Sex at Queen’s University. For specific questions about the research mentioned in this blog post or to receive a copy of the original article, please email Dr. van Anders, the corresponding author.
Chadwick, S.B., Francisco, M., & van Anders, S.M. (in press). When orgasms do not equal pleasure: Accounts of “bad” orgasm experiences during consensual sexual encounters. Archives of Sexual Behavior. doi: 10.1007/s10508-019-01527-7