symbols of different reactions we can have during sex. Stars. Lightening. Stop sign. Zzzzz. Stars.

How We React During Sex

How our bodies might react during sex can be different for different people at different times. Read more about why this is important to talk about. This article refers to non-consensual sex and being triggered, but doesn’t go into any detail.

In the BISH activity book I’ve got a page to get you to think about how your body might react to sex (or other kinds of touch). Here it is in fact.  

It’s worth thinking about how you react to things during sex, but also during any kind of activity. Think about what happens to you when:

  • You’re really loving what’s happening
  • You’re a bit meh about what is happening
  • If you orgasm
  • When you’re not in the mood anymore
  • When something’s happened you really didn’t like

It’s worth chatting about these things before you have sex with someone so that they know what to expect. Also it’s good to do this so that they know how to react to your reaction and what would be good for you.

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Differences and similarities in reactions

We might assume that everyone has the same reaction to, let’s say, an orgasm. But those can be very different for different people and sometimes it can get confusing. For example, sometimes people might have orgasms where they might cry, or laugh, or curl up in a ball, or go really rigid.

This is also true when sex is non-consensual (like a rape or sexual assault). You might have learnt that people react by fighting people off or getting out of there (fight or flight), this is true. However (and I think more commonly), people also freeze up (freeze), or to pretend and go along with it (appease, so it all ends more quickly), or to dissociate from their body.

All of these reactions can happen when we are being triggered too. Being triggered (in this context) is when something happens which reminds us of a previous traumatic experience.

None of this is a choice. When we are threatened by something, our brains respond very quickly and just take over to do whatever will keep us safe. It’s not something we think about, it’s something that happens instinctively. More about this, and where you can get support, at the end of the article.

So we react in different but also similar ways, so that means we have to…


Talking about the different ways that we might react to things can be well useful. If we have a good idea about how our body tends to react we can talk about it before hand. But we can also talk about it after in a post-match analysis type conversation.

“When my face scrunches up like that it’s because I’m really concentrating.”

“Yeah I tired I guess and zoning out a bit there.”

“Yeah I flinched at that bit. It’s a thing I like, but I just need a bit of a heads up first.”

We can also keep trying to read someone’s body language, even though for the reasons I’ve just explained this isn’t always going to be accurate. But if someone is zoning out, or tensing up, or if you’re getting the impression that they aren’t enjoying this, then stop.

Using words during sex is important if we have any doubts whatsoever. Simple words or phrases like or ‘feeling okay?’ or ‘how’s this?’ are also really important.

Read more about how to do sex talk and communication

If we have any doubts at all it’s really important to slow right down and also just to stop things.

It’s always better to not do it than do it. If we were really doing consent well, we would probably be not having sex a lot more than we are.

If the other person is not happy that you’ve stopped they can tell you, but it’s better to have an awkward moment like that than do something non consensual. It also shows that you are a better person to have sex with tbh.

Now for the bit about how to deal with a difficult reaction.

Responses to non-consent

When the body is in this kind of reaction mode, it can be really scary for that person. The most important thing in the first instance is to try to do some grounding, which is like an emergency self-care. Get into a safe space, make sure you get hydrated, and eat something if you can, and try to get back into your body. Slow down and notice what’s going on in your body right now. Like, what it’s in contact with, what you can see, what you can hear. Feel your breath come into your body and then slowly leaving.

Read more about how to do this kind of self care so you can practice (and also know how to help others). Here’s some practical advice about how to treat your body in these situations.

Find out more about services for people who have been Sexually Assaulted

Read more about how to deal with being sexually assaulted in this excellent booklet by The Havens, a sexual assault referral centre. The people who work at these kinds of centres have been trained to understand all of this and how complicated our reactions can be. I’ll write more about this at another time.

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© Justin Hancock, 2023

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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health.

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