This article was scientifically reviewed by Human Sexuality expert Dr. Laurie Mintz in June 2023.
Sex is one of the best ways to build intimacy and connect with your partner. When you’re both naked, bodies touching, sensually moving together while keeping each other’s gaze, the atmosphere is very romantic and pleasant.
But sometimes, you just don’t want to do it sweet and soft. Sometimes, you just want to be thrown on the bed and railed until you forget your own name or which city you live in.
And that’s where rough sex comes into play.
While rough sex is considered to be something kinky and out of the normal bedroom behavior, more and more people are engaging in it. In fact, according to the latest study, around 80% of people are engaging in rough sex activities with their current romantic and sexual partners.
More and more people are interested in venturing outside their usual experiences to explore the concept of rough sex and what it has to offer.
So, what exactly is rough sex, and why do we crave it?
What Is Rough Sex?
It’s not easy to define what exactly rough sex is, as the definition of what “rough” is, varies from person to person. But the general definition of rough sex is any sexual activities that involve pain or that are aggressive.
It could be anything from hard kissing, roleplay, hard-thrusting, hair pulling, or any sort of BDSM and bondage activities. The specter of activities is very broad, and the definition of what is aggressive to some people will be wildly different.
While most people believe that rough sex has to inflict at least a certain amount of pain to be considered rough, it’s not necessarily true. You don’t have to participate in sadomasochistic sexual activity if you don’t find pleasure in pain.
Even aggressive and more demanding language can be counted as part of rough sex.
For example, when you’re talking dirty to your partner, or sexting, or when you’re in the middle of BDSM play and your partner gives you commands. All of that is also part of rough sex.
What Rough Sex Is NOT
Rough sex is sexual activity between two people who both consent to activities taking place and both equally enjoy it.
If parties involved in rough sex are not both consenting and enthusiastically enjoying it, or there was a lack of communication for such activity from either side, then it’s not rough sex. It’s a sexual assault and a serious crime.
If you’re interested in exploring rough sex, it should be clear that you communicate with your partner and agree that both of you are interested in trying out something outside vanilla sex before you do anything.
Why Do We Enjoy Rough Sex?
Some might argue that the appeal of rough sex could be credited to our habits of porn and what we see on our screens. According to Pornhub’s statistics, rough sex has been a fairly popular category for the last seven years and running.
And what’s even more interesting is that the numbers show that women are 63% more likely to view the rough sex category than men are.
And while it’s true that porn does influence our sexual behavior as many young people and teenagers use it as their only form of sex education, these numbers don’t necessarily mean that porn made us want rough sex.
It more so gives an insight into the fact that more people crave rough sex, and it should be considered a norm instead of being labeled as extreme or kinky.
Social psychologist Dr. Justin Lehmiller discusses the recent findings of the study published in the Evolutionary Psychological Science on why people crave rough sex and get more aroused by it.
He writes, “Men and women alike reported that it tended to be more arousing and that their orgasms were more intense.” This alone is a valid explanation for our need to indulge in rough sex as it has a better payoff in terms of more intense orgasms.
Dr. Justin Lehmiller writes, “women reported reaching orgasm faster… faster orgasms might be part of the appeal of this activity to women.”
The pleasure gap is a real thing, and women are the ones suffering because of it. If rough sex enhances the sexual experience and gets women faster to the finish line, then the fascination with rough sex is a reasonable thing.
The Connection Between Pain and Pleasure
Sometimes, rough sex will involve pain from spanking, choking, or in some other cases, consensual physical violence like punching.
Pain is usually an emotion we’re trying to avoid as humans, as it indicates to us that it’s a dangerous activity and can result in death. This is why we learn to avoid things like touching a hot stove or playing with knives at a very young age.
However, the relationship between pain and pleasure is way more complex than pain, indicating a threat to us. A study published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience shows that sensations of pain and pleasure activate the same parts of our brain.
Whenever we experience pain or pleasure, the brain region involved in the reward system, regulating the motivation-driven behaviors, lights up the same way.
So, whenever you’re engaging in rough sex activities and enjoy them, your brain releases happy hormones, which in turn make you want to engage in the same activity more in the future.
It’s also important to mention that we don’t feel pain the same way in a positive and negative environment.
Research shows that the sensation of pain tends to decrease when we’re experiencing pain in a positive environment, for example, when we’re having sex with our partner.
So, the pain we experience during rough sex play doesn’t feel the same way as if you were attacked on the street.
Rough Sex Helps Escape the Daily Routine
Another reason why some people tend to engage in rough sex is looking for a way to spice up their sex lives. Dr. Justin Lehmiller writes, “among the more common triggers were the need for sexual novelty (in other words, just wanting to try something new and different).”
Pain and engaging in BDSM activities also help people detach from their day-to-day life and escape the problems of adulthood. One study published in 2015 shows that people who engage in BDSM do so because it helps them de-stress and escape the problems of their daily life.
It’s common for rough sex play and BDSM to include roleplays and even switching roles of who’s the dominant one in real life and who’s submissive between couples, and it is liberating.
Dealing With Trauma Through Rough Sex
For the longest time, there has been a misconception that people who are kinky and enjoy sexual experiences outside of vanilla sex are somewhat “damaged” or struggle with mental illnesses.
Sex experts and psychologists have denied this to be true throughout the years. One doesn’t have to suffer from mental illness to enjoy kinky or non-traditional sex.
Samuel Hughes, a psychological researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, researches people’s kinks and how they develop and affect their lives.
During his time researching, he noticed that some people who enjoyed kinky sex had experienced trauma and hardships in their lives, even though they were not the majority.
He discovered that some people who had had those experiences use their kinks as a way to relive those hardships and traumas with the sense of having control over it and healing.
Hughes writes, “For example, a sexual assault survivor might initially feel afraid, weak, and powerless during their actual sexual assault.” However, simulating that assault via consensual roleplaying with a trusted partner can help them feel powerful (because they consensually negotiated and agreed to it, and can use a safeword to stop the scene), strong (because they feel they can get through whatever physical pain or intensity comes their way), and brave, for facing what can often be dark times in their past head-on.”
So, some people might enjoy rough sex play as it helps them regain control over what had happened to them, finding their way into healing from trauma and hardship.
How To Safely Explore Rough Sex Activities
BDSM play has clear rules that people usually set and tend to refer to whenever they plan on engaging in the activity. Some people go even as far as creating contracts to set boundaries.
While some parts of BDSM are involved in rough sex play, it’s not fully counted as part of BDSM and is regarded as something more casual. This, in turn, leaves a lot of space for miscommunication and negative experiences.
For this reason, if you’re interested in engaging in rough sex with your partner, you should be open and honest and don’t just go with it, assuming your partner is on board.
Consent is important for any sexual activity, but it should be extremely clear when it comes to engaging in aggressive sex, which can be violent and triggering for some people.
Simply jumping your partner or start choking them in the middle of intercours is definitely not the right way to introduce rough sex play. You can never know what could trigger them or how they would feel, even if your intentions are to seduce or spice things up spontaneously.
You don’t need to write up elaborate contracts like some BDSM practitioners like to do. However, clearly discussing what it is that turns you on, what would be a fun thing to try, and if your partner is on board is crucial before engaging in any type of rough sex.
When you’re communicating your needs and wants to your partner, it’s important to let them know how far you’re willing to go and what makes you uncomfortable or is your no-go zone.
If your partner finds something arousing, while you don’t, don’t be pressured into an activity that’s uncomfortable for you.
It’s also a good idea to stay on the safe side and have a safe word if you intend on engaging in rough sex play, which involves roleplaying. This way you can enjoy the roleplay while still having a safe way out if things get uncomfortable.
Don’t Forget Aftercare
Aftercare is a huge part of BDSM practice when the dominant partner ensures to take care of the submissive’s emotional needs after the play is done.
Even if you enjoy being tortured or in pain or humiliated during sex, you might still experience the low after sex, which aftercare, as simple as cuddling, can help soothe.
Rough sex play might not be as intense as BDSM, depending on the preferences that you and your partner have, but dedicating five or ten minutes after sex to cuddling, kissing, or simply lying together in bed can make a huge difference to the whole experience.
So, don’t dismiss the importance of aftercare and make sure that you and your partner are feeling taken care of and loved after the rough play.