Sex Ed

When Orgasms Aren’t Pleasurable: Understanding ‘Bad’ Orgasms

March 2, 2020 by Justin Lehmiller

When you hear the word orgasm, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? 


Odds are, you probably thought about pleasure because most of us tend to equate orgasms with positive feelings. However, it turns out that orgasms aren’t universally pleasurable experiences. In fact, according to a recent study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior,  many people report having experienced a “bad” orgasm at one time or another.

This study is the subject of a recent post I wrote over on the Kinsey Institute Research Blog and it involved a survey of 726 adults who were asked about their previous experiences with sex and orgasm. 

Specifically, participants were asked about consensual sexual experiences in which they felt pressure to have sex, felt pressure to orgasm, or agreed to sex that they didn’t really desire—all factors that are likely to lead to a suboptimal sexual experience. Participants were asked to compare the orgasms they had in these situations to situations with more favorable circumstances. 

The researchers found that the orgasms that took place in these situations were rated as less pleasurable, weaker, and—in some cases—painful. Some also described these orgasms as purely physical, with little to no pleasant feelings accompanying them.

In many cases, people also said that these orgasms had negative effects that went beyond the sexual encounter, reporting negative implications for their relationships, their future sexual encounters, and/or their mental health.   

What all of this tells us is that orgasms that occur during consensual sex are not a universally positive experience and that we need to pay more attention to diversity and variability in the way that people experience orgasm across situations.  

To learn more about this research and also how experiences with “bad” orgasms vary across gender and sexual orientation, check out my full report over on the Kinsey Institute Research Blog.

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To learn more about this study, see: Chadwick, S. B., Francisco, M., & van Anders, S. M. (2019). When Orgasms Do Not Equal Pleasure: Accounts of “Bad” Orgasm Experiences During Consensual Sexual Encounters. Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Image Source: 123RF 

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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