1 in 10 Americans Say They’ve Had an Orgasm While Exercising
October 4, 2021 by Justin Lehmiller
When people think about orgasms, they usually think about sex and masturbation. Orgasms arise from sexual stimulation, right? That’s certainly the most common route to orgasm for most people, but something a lot of folks don’t realize is that orgasms sometimes occur in non-sexual contexts.
For example, as I’ve previously written on the blog, some people report experiences with orgasm during sleep, while exercising, and even during childbirth.
But just how many people have experienced orgasms outside of a sexual context? Most studies that can speak to this have relied on non-representative, convenience samples. For example, Alfred Kinsey estimated that about 5% of people had experienced exercise-induced orgasms based on reports provided by his participants. However, he didn’t have a representative sample and also didn’t ask standardized questions about this subject.
We now have an answer, though. A recent, nationally representative US survey has emerged that can shed light on the prevalence of orgasm through some non-sexual activities.
In the fourth wave of the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB), researchers asked 1,012 men and 1,083 women about their experiences with orgasm during both exercise and sleep. Specifically, here are the questions:
“Thinking about your entire life, how many times have you had an orgasm while you were engaging in physical exercise (e.g., such as sit-ups, ab exercises, yoga, running, lifting weights, climbing, etc.).”
“Thinking about your entire life, how many times have you had an orgasm while you were sleeping?”
There was also a follow-up question to the one about exercise that inquired about the specific exercise(s) people were doing.
The results indicated that 9% of Americans (about 1 in 10) said they’d experienced at least one orgasm through exercise at some point. Men and women did not differ in terms of their experiences with this, although men tended to have their first exercise-induced orgasm at a younger age than women. On average, men had their first one between ages 16-17, whereas women had their first one in their early 20s.
A wide range of physical activities were reported; however, the single most common one for men and women alike involved abdominal exercises. Biking, running, and jogging were also reported by several participants. Less commonly, people mentioned things like jumping jacks and riding a rocking horse. Interestingly, one participant specifically mentioned “loading an eighteen-wheeler with 55-gallon steel drums.”
Of those who had experienced exercise-induced orgasms, most reported experiencing this less than five times total in their lives. Just 1% said this had happened more than 10 times.
So what about sleep orgasms? A majority of Americans (53%) said they had experienced this at least once before, although men were more likely to report this than women (66% vs. 42%, respectively).
Again, most reported this to be an infrequent experience, saying sleep-induced orgasms had only occurred five or fewer times in total. However, a substantial minority (15%) said this is something they had experienced more than 10 times in their lives.
It’s worth noting that those who had experienced orgasms from exercise were also more likely to experience orgasms during sleep, and this was true for both men and women. The authors suggest that this “may reflect an underlying predisposition to unintentional orgasm in some people.”
There are some limitations of these data. For example, none of the participants identified as transgender and the number of people reporting sexual identities other than heterosexual was small, which means these data can’t really speak to the prevalence of non-sexual orgasms among sexual and gender minorities.
Also, these data are based on retrospective reports, which means people may not accurately remember how often they actually had these experiences or exactly when they occurred. Plus, when it comes to sleep orgasms, people may not always realize when they happen, unless they woke up during it or there was some “evidence” of it the next morning.
We also don’t yet understand why some people have these experiences and other people don’t, which means that more research is needed. However, these findings do tell us that many people have experiences with orgasm outside the context of solo and partnered sexual activity, which can help to normalize these experiences for those who have them.
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Image Source: Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash
To learn more about this research, see: Herbenick, D., Fu, T. C., Patterson, C., & Dennis Fortenberry, J. (2021). Exercise-Induced Orgasm and Its Association with Sleep Orgasms and Orgasms During Partnered Sex: Findings From a US Probability Survey. Archives of Sexual Behavior.
Dr. Justin LehmillerFounder & 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.Read full bio >