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Bad orgasms are defined as a non-positive, non-pleasurable, or negative orgasm.

And according to a 2019 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, “bad” orgasms can negatively affect a person’s relationships, sexuality, and psychological health.

It’s important to note that bad orgasms can occur during consensual sex or acts of assault. Here, we’ll be focusing on the former.

Bad ≠ painful ≠ incomplete

Although some might qualify painful (dysorgasmia) or incomplete orgasms as “not good” or “bad,” the term “bad orgasm” specifically refers to an orgasm that:

  • feels negative
  • occurs during a pressure-filled encounter
  • has negative effects on your psychological health or relationship

Physically, orgasm refers to the sensation of the pelvic floor muscles contracting or relaxing.

Sometimes those mechanics happen while the psychological response we typically associate with orgasms remains absent, explains Sarah Melancon, PhD, a clinical sexologist with The Sex Toy Collective.

“Typically, [this happens] when someone goes through the physical motions of sex even when they’re not mentally or emotionally in the mood,” she says.

According to Melancon, “Any person of any gender or any sex can have a bad orgasm.”

The study that we’re exploring here — the one that appears to have coined the phenomenon — relayed data from an online survey of 726 adults of “diverse gender and sexual identities.”

According to The Kinsey Institute’s coverage of the study:

  • 8.8% of participants indicated they had a nonbinary gender identity
  • 58.8% of participants indicated that their sexual orientation was something other than heterosexual

Although researchers surveyed a range of adults between ages 18 and 66, most participants were between the age of 25 and 34.

There are five main scenarios that are likely to result in a “bad” orgasm.

1. The whole shebang is ‘meh’

Face it: It’s pretty damn tricky for an orgasm to be good when the entire encounter is not-so-good.

This might look like:

  • Not feeling okay while you’re having sex.
  • Realizing mid-way through that you can’t stand the person you’re having sex with.
  • Feeling too tired to have sex but doing it anyway.

According to many of the study’s participants, if an orgasm occurs during these non-positive encounters, the orgasm itself is bad. Makes sense.

2. You’re having sex to avoid conflict

Ever agree to have sex even when you’re not in the mood because you don’t want to make your case for *not* doing it?

This is what researchers call “compliant sex” — sex that takes place for the sake of conflict avoidance.

Unsurprisingly, if you aren’t happy about doing it to begin with, any O that follows likely won’t feel good.

3. You feel pressured to orgasm

Society generally paints orgasm as the ultimate symbol of sexual satisfaction, consequently painting sex that’s O-free as unwanted or unnatural.

Known as the “orgasm obligation” or “orgasm imperative,” this can make folks feel like they absolutely MUST orgasm, or else the sex will be seen as a capital-f Fail.

In these situations, folks may orgasm. But that orgasm is gonna feel less good than orgasms that occur during pressure-free encounters.

4. The orgasm negatively impacts your life

And more specifically, your relationships, sexuality, or psychological health.

This might include anything from an orgasm that occurs when you’re cheating on your partner to an orgasm that occurs while watching porn that you partner dislikes.

“This could also occur when someone is feeling sexual shame or disgust around the specific sexual acts that they’re engaging in,” says Melancon.

5. You were bullied into banging

Or, what the researchers call, “coerced sex (that individuals feel is consensual).”

In this study, sexual coercion is defined as an encounter where “individuals are verbally, but not violently, pressured to consent to unwanted sex by their partner.”

While many would say this is sexual assault by another name, the study demonstrates that many people who’ve experienced sexual coercion describe their experiences as consensual.

Other reasons

According to the researchers in this study, “there may be an infinite number of reasons why orgasm experiences during consensual sex could be bad.”

Beyond the aforementioned reasons, an orgasm could be bad if, for example, you’re:

  • mentally preoccupied with work during the sex
  • generally experiencing high stress levels
  • frustrated, hurt, or angry with your partner about something unrelated to sex

After reviewing all survey responses, researchers concluded that 402 participants experienced what could be called a “bad orgasm” — that’s 55.4 percent.

Melancon suspects that number is higher for the general population. “It’s likely something that happens to almost everyone at least once,” she says.

Many participants suggested that their individual identities — and the expectations surrounding them — shaped their orgasm experiences.

Commonly cited factors included:

According to Melancon, bad orgasms typically don’t result in physical complications.

“They can, however, result in emotional and mental issues,” she says.

In the study, participants reported feeling:

  • upset
  • frustrated
  • emotionally detached
  • frustrated with or betrayed by their body because their orgasm was unwanted
  • relief that the encounter was over
  • disgusted
  • distressed
  • disoriented
  • irritated
  • invalidated
  • weak

One participant said that after frequent bad orgasms, “[they] began to really dislike sex all together.”

Another person said that the experience “made [them] feel invalid and emasculated.”

Your next steps will largely depend on the environment and circumstances that the bad orgasm took place.

In the moment

Immediately after it happens, breathe.

This will help downregulate your central nervous system, which is likely going haywire after the bad O, explains Heather Jeffcoat, DPT, author of “Sex Without Pain: A Self-Treatment Guide to the Sex Life You Deserve.”

If you’re in physical pain, she recommends applying a hot pack to the lower abdomen.

“[This will] help relieve any muscle tension that can be associated with bad and painful orgasm,” says Jeffcoat.

If you’re in a situation where you feel safe, Melancon recommends talking to your partner about what you just experienced.

“Of course, the problem is that most of these bad orgasms take place when someone doesn’t feel safe and therefore they’re having these orgasms,” notes Melancon.

So, if you’re in a situation where you don’t feel safe, try to get out of there as quickly as possible. Need to fake the stomach bug? Do it. Need to pretend you got an urgent text about your grandmother? Fine.

Over time

Don’t be surprised if it takes some time to sort through the emotions that come with the bad orgasm.

“Often, it takes a while to process those feelings,” says Melancon.

In addition to reflecting on why the bad orgasm may have taken place, having regular conversations with a close friend, mental health professional, and your partner(s) about the experience can help, she says.

First things first, if your partner shares that they experienced a bad orgasm, recognize that:

  1. It probably took major guts for them to tell you
  2. They must trust you if they’re willing to open up about it

“Before you respond, take a deep breath to stop yourself from responding with your ego,” says Melancon.

Instead, respond with care and compassion. Start by asking them what they need from you at that exact moment.

For example:

  • “Thank you for telling me, love. What can I do for you in this exact moment to help? Do you want water? Do you want to be held?”
  • “Oh baby, I’m so sorry that didn’t feel good for you.”

“If you can make it safe for a partner to process negative sexual experiences with you, it can make it easier for a partner to have pleasurable sexual experiences with you,” says Melancon.

Later, she suggests asking additional questions like:

  1. How was it different from the orgasm you typically experience?
  2. What was different about our approach to sex this time?
  3. Was there any action or phrase that may have triggered this reaction?

The answers to these will give you intel that allows you to reduce the likelihood of it happening again.

Bad orgasms may be common, but they shouldn’t be the norm.

So, if you’ve had more than one, Jeffcoat recommends working with a doctor or other healthcare provider to rule out any underlying medical causes (i.e. hormonal havoc or infection).

Your next step is to see a pelvic floor physical therapist who has experience treating orgasm dysfunction. Ideally, a trauma-informed physical therapist.

“Pelvic floor weakness or tightness can result in pain or discomfort in the pelvic region, such as during orgasm, which can feel similar to a bad orgasm,” explains Jeffcoat.

If your providers are unable to pinpoint a physical cause, Melancon says it’s time to work with a trauma-informed mental health professional or sex therapist.

“Bad orgasms are especially common in trauma survivors, so tackling that underlying trauma can be helpful,” says Melancon.

Although orgasms that result from consensual sex are generally assumed to be a positive experience, recent research suggests otherwise.

Many participants described sexual experiences that were negative, despite the fact that they resulted in orgasm.

Now known as “bad orgasms,” these experiences can have lasting effects on a person’s mental and emotional health.


Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based sex and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tested over 200 vibrators, and eaten, drunk, and brushed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books and romance novels, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.