Rough sex

What is Rough Sex

Sex isn’t always a gentle, kissy-kissy, hand-holdy, flowers in meadows, magical soft focus, lovey dovey thing. Sometimes sex is hard and intense. A lot of people have, what is called, rough sex. Some some studies are showing that it’s pretty common with young people. So this article is about what rough sex is and why people might like it (or do it). It’s also about how we can do it with more consent and safety. 

What is it?

How common is it?

Why do people do it?

How do we judge this?

Is it porn’s fault?

Rough sex and consent


Most articles about rough sex (and kink) are for adults and there’s probably a good reason for that. In order to do rough sex consensually you need to be pretty good at communicating about sexuality related things. You will also need to find other people who are good at this too and who you can trust. This is harder to do for younger folk. So although this website is for over 14s, I think you need to be quite a bit older to do a lot of this stuff consensually. (Readers here are mostly in their teens and twenties). You will see that it takes a lot of hard work that you just might not be experienced enough to do yet. Though sadly this is true of a lot of adults too. 

This is an explainer. Just as with all sex education, just because I’m explaining it, doesn’t mean I’m encouraging it. There are no sexy pictures below. I’ve tried not to be too graphic, or heavy but I am going to describe different kinds of rough sex that (without consent) would be violent. 

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What is rough sex?

The kinds of things that researchers talk about when they refer to rough sex are:

  • Slapping.
  • Gripping (holding someone firmly or pinning them down). 
  • Spitting. 
  • Choking (which should actually be called strangling, as that’s more accurate).
  • Hair pulling. 
  • Biting. 
  • Gagging (restricting someone’s breathing with something in or over the mouth).

There are other things too but this is the kind of thing that we are talking about generally. 

Just as with any other kind of sex consent and care is the absolute key. If there’s little or no care or consent, these things are acts of violence and criminal offences. Doing these things without consent is also unethical, wrong, or immoral, however you want to call it. 

If you’ve read my recent kink article you will see that there is a bit of overlap between what is rough and what is kink. As I say in that article, kink is about doing these things with a lot of intention and in a scene. With a start, middle and end, where there is some element of power exchange. I’ll get to this later, but rough sex could be seen to be somewhere between kink and vanilla sex. 

Please read my guide to relationships, it’s really useful!

How common is it?

I don’t want to worry everyone but researchers looking into rough sex are finding that it’s actually quite common, particularly with young people. 

Just looking at what is called strangulation / choking. According to this recent study of uni students, 26.5% of women, 6.6% of men, and 22.3% of trans / trans non-binary people reported being choked at the last time they had sex. According to this survey 54% of 18 – 24 year old women in the UK have experienced choking, at some point. 

That last survey (I’m just giving the 18 – 24 year old stats) also asked participants about the rough sex. 56% said it was unwanted (always 11%, most of the time 18%, some of the time 29%) and 41% said that none of the rough sex was unwanted. When asked whether these acts of rough sex left them feeling scared or frightened, 69% said never (with 21% saying they were at least once). About whether the acts of rough sex were consensual (I’m paraphrasing): 52% said it was consensual, 46% saying not consensual (everytime 11%, most of the time 11%, some of the time 24%). 

We should treat these studies with caution as they have a small sample size. But they do suggest that rough sex is quite common, most of the time it is probably consensual and / or wanted, but a lot of the time it isn’t. If you’ve experienced this yourself, or done some of these things to others, you might want to just take a minute to think about this for yourself rather than focus on the statistics of other people. 

Why do people do this? 

People have sex for lots of different reasons and everyone who has sex wants to have different feelings and sensations during and after. This means that people do different kinds of sex or do different kinds of sex differently. For people into rough sex it doesn’t mean that they are violent or aggressive people (although some are). 

A lot of people want to feel lots of sensation to enjoy sex. If you’ve read my article about stress, you’ll know that sometimes our bodies experience a good kind of stress. Like if you are playing sport, or on a fairground ride, or watching a scary film it can be really enjoyable (you do you, I hate these things). The same can be true for sex too, both for kink and rough sex. The kind of sex that might get people out of breath, tingly, sweaty, and stimulated all over. Sometimes people need to be in their body and not in their heads (if that makes sense to you).

Teach Yourself Sex Ed – Bodies

However, this is definitely not for everyone. A lot of people just really like vanilla sex. Sex with nothing scary, no pain, no marks being left, no power exchange. It’s a mistake to think that vanilla is boring or that rough sex or kink are always more exciting. Vanilla sex can be incredibly exciting and rough sex and kink can be very dull and not do it for people at all. Whatever sex you have, the key to enjoying it more is to get the vibe right, to know what’s going to happen, and to be in the moment. 

Here’s an article about how to enjoy sex more

How do we judge this?

When we see stats like this and think about what this might mean, it’s easy to be kinda shocked by it. I must admit that a lot of this worries me a bit. However it’s important that we don’t rush to judge ourselves or other people, particularly about the times when rough sex is happening consensually. It’s not great to say that some kinds of sex are normal, healthy, and safe, and some not. 

What a lot of people would say is ‘normal’ sex, putting a penis inside a vagina, is actually pretty harmful, painful, and not safe in many cases. I was about 9 when someone told me about this for the first time (school playground, we were playing football) and I was horrified! Putting a part of your body inside someone else’s? What was your first reaction when you found out about this? Can you see what I’m saying? The fact is, all sex acts can be strange to some people and you don’t have to like all of it. 

As I said right at the top, the most important thing with any kind of sex is that is it consensual and safe. I’ll get on to this shortly but first of all let’s deal with something which may well have popped into your brain as soon as you started reading this. 

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Is it porn’s fault?

It’s a bit of an annoying question really but I think we need to talk about it because it always comes up and it gets in the way. Yes there’s a lot of rough sex in porn but it’s not as simple as ‘people watch it and it makes them do it.’ That’s not how any media works. 

Most important point is this: porn is not making you do anything. If you do something you have seen in porn, you are doing it and you are responsible for doing it safely and consensually. This is true for any kind of sex and it’s true if you saw it in porn, or Normal People, or Game of Thrones, or in Team America World Police. Also it’s not like things like choking are just a sex thing, you know what they do in wrestling right?

Read an Educational Guide to Porn

I think the way to think about the role of porn is that it is one source of information and yes porn does have a lot of rough sex in it, and maybe it has more things like ‘choking’, grabbing, and spanking in it. And yes, it is depicted as a ‘normal sex’ thing rather than a kink thing. I do think that this is a problem, and I have a lot of criticism for porn companies, but I don’t think we can say that porn is causing more rough sex. The responsibility for rough sex is on those doing it. 

If this interests you a lot you should try my sex ed module on the sex we see.

So if rough sex is as common as the research is saying, we should be taking this seriously. Of course some rough sex is going to be negotiated beforehand but given that a lot of it seems to be either not consensual, or not wanted, or scary, maybe this isn’t happening. So the important thing (as with all sex) is to learn about how to communicate and create the right space for sex to be consensual. 

Talking about it first

As I’ve written about before, a lot of people take the ‘one thing leading to another’ approach when they have sex. They might follow the script for ‘how we are supposed to have sex’ that we might have heard about in sex education, films, TV, porn, books. This script says that sex is:

  • Kissing.
  • Nudity.
  • Stroking. 
  • Oral.
  • Intercourse. 

Following a script might be okay for some people, if they want to follow the script and agree on what the script is. But what if one person’s idea of ‘the script’ is rougher than another person’s? If roughness is part of the script for some people that means we have to start talking about it more. 

So if you are keen on doing anything that is rough, it’s on you to use your words in advance. ‘I really like ________, ____________, and ____________, how do you feel about that?’ Also be prepared to talk about different ways of doing something (for example, how firmly, in what way, how long for, which part of the body). 

If this is a bit too daunting, or you’re not really sure how you feel about different kinds of sex, you could talk about what what you definitely don’t want to do this time. A good question to ask your sex partner is ‘is there anything you really don’t want to do? For me, (eg) I really don’t want to be bitten anywhere that can be seen.’ Telling the other person something that you really don’t want to do can give them more freedom to tell you what they don’t want. 

As I say, I’ve written about how to talk about the different kinds of sex you might want, and also how to ask. I have also written a book about it. 

Communicating during

Please do try to communicate as much as you can before having sex. I know that it’s difficult, and it’s more difficult for some people to do because of stigma, a lack of experience, a lack of good sex education, and power

However, even if you have talked about it more before hand it’s really important to continue communicating during it. Again I’ve talked about sex talk and communication here and these tips on how to enjoy sex by paying attention are really important. 

Give as much idea of what you are intending to do as possible before and as you are doing it. Do things slowly and carefully so that the other person is aware of what is about to happen. Make sure that you are leaving space and pauses so that they can back out. Always give the other person the opportunity to direct you. 

If you are having things done to you (perhaps you are the bottom, or the sub) can you give direction? Harder, faster, slower, gently, ow, good, yes, wait, hold on, are all really useful directions. 

Check in that this is still something they want. Start slow and gently and see check in with what their body is saying. Are they shaking their heads, or moving your hand, or moving away from you? Then stop. Are they saying yes, nodding their head, or making ‘I’m enjoying this’ noises, then carry on. Pay attention to what’s going on for you too. If you are distracted, high, and not paying attention to the scene you are in you might be harming the other person or yourself. 

If you are wanting to do spanking, or choking there are some specific ways to make these safer. You should definitely read this on safer BDSM from my Kink article.

Read more about consent and sex

Keep making pauses

All of this is relevant to all kinds of sex. If you want to do things like spanking, choking, biting, or gripping, do so very very slowly and gently at first. Give the other person the opportunity to respond, to think about whether this is something they want, and to communicate with you. This means giving them quite a lot of time actually. Awkward pauses and silences are much better than carrying on. 

You could be doing something non-consensual or unwanted almost immediately with some kinds of rough sex. For example sometimes people don’t want their hair to be touched at all, let alone grabbed or pulled. For spitting you can’t really do that more gently or more slowly: see also ejaculating on someone. So if you know you want to do these things or definitely don’t want to do these things, it’s better to try and flag it up before sex starts. 

Communicating after 

As with all sex and kink, it’s good to be able to talk about rough sex afterwards. Go through it and talk about what felt good, what could be done differently. Was anything too rough, or not rough enough? Do you need to put your hands in a different place next time? Is there a way that you could have done a bit more communication. 

This kind of feedback is incredibly valuable, so don’t get all mardy or pissy. The person we are having sex with is the world’s leading expert on how to have sex with them. So listen to them really intently. 

If you want to read more about violence and sex generally read this excellent book, which is out today, Rough. The author joined me on my podcast for adults, which you can listen to here

Comment below if you like. I moderate all comments before they appear, just so you know!

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I’ve been a sex and relationships educator since 1999 (with a background in youth and community work). In that time I’ve taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. I’ve worked with many charities, local governments, schools and youth organisations facilitating training and workshops. My two books, Enjoy Sex (How, When, and If You Want To) and Can We Talk About Consent? are widely available around the world. I’ve been on the telly and the radio and have written articles for newspapers and magazines. I’m also a member of the World Association for Sexual Health. Read more about me and BISH here. Find out about my other work here Justin Hancock

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5 thoughts on “What is Rough Sex

  1. Let’s be real, this kind of sex is not healthy. Certain personality types cannot perceive the effects but it is obvious why society has normalised things that were previously seen as paraphilias. It is a way to keep people blind and corrupted so they are easily controlled. You will know the types of people into this are more judgemental about others then anyone else in society. They will be more sarcastic and passive aggressive and certainly more selfish. They may feel more content in themselves (studies have shown they are happier than controls) but at a cost of having lower trust in others (lower agreeableness has been shown which is a sign of corruption).

    In schools, teachers may say porn isn’t realistic but that goes against the reality they may not understand. The sex is porn is very normal to people into kinky and ‘depraved’ (often in their own words) sex. So are teachers going to teach children about this ‘normal’ sex, as you put it? Many parents are terrified of their kids seeing porn but you are saying that it is not abnormal, and in truth it isn’t as society becomes more deluded it is increasingly normalised. You will notice many who are into this kind of sex either do not want to make friends with their sexual partners and just want the action (some like to be blindfolded and not know who they are going with, so where is the consent there?) or conversely state they want to make friends and kinky sex partners (this is a sign of a personality disorder as they should realise these bonds cannot be healthy). In reality there is never any informed consent as they do not understand how their desires have come about from their feelings being masked (which causes the desires in the first place).

    In fact, more women than men want CNC (consensual non-consent). The last well known extremely large sexual survey from Quebec Canada (decades ago now, so stats have likely worsened) proved that 30% more women have fantasies of being forced upon than men have the corresponding fantasy of forcing a woman (around 22% of males v 29% of females). This is again a sign of delusions resulting from corruption which people want to normalise. Some personality types will not perceive the reality but those that do should stand up to the truth.

    1. Thanks for your interesting and thoughtful comments. There’s a lot here to unpack and I’m not sure I agree with much of what you have to say, but thanks for saying it. It’s a very tricky topic indeed to write about and talk about. I think my approach with any kind of sex is: how can we make it safer; how can we make it more consensual; how can we make it more enjoyable. I’m not sure that it’s really up to me to say that any kind of sex is essentially or intrinsically healthy – there’s an awful lot of non-consensual, unsafe, and unenjoyable ‘non-rough’ sex too of course.

  2. Question: So my girl “likes to run away” meaning when we’re having sex in a certain position she tries to escape. Like push me off and verbally says she can’t take it but she’ll say it why’ll she’s moaning. So I’d stop because those are warning signs. But she’d come back to me and tell me to be more aggressive. And almost Everytime we’d have sex and she’ll have a crygasm. So what does she mean when she says to be more aggressive? Does she want me to ignore the signs?

    1. This is something you’ll both have to chat to each other about. What might be happening is that she is going into what some people call ‘sub space’, which is a different kind of consciousness (kind of like a hypnotic or trance state). Sex can affect the body in really powerful ways and we have to be careful to make sure that we are feeling okay about it (that goes for you too). This might feel really great for her and exactly what she wants to happen, but you won’t know unless you are both able to chat about it. So you are right to stop and to be cautious, because this can be really confusing if you don’t know what’s going on. If either of you are in any doubt then it’s usually better to de-escalate the sex rather than to try and escalate the emotions. If you are new to sex or new to sex with each other, it’s good to just be slow and cautious about this stuff.

      So try to set aside a time where you can talk about how you’re both feeling and about the kinds of things you both might like to do. There are loads of resources on here about how to talk about what you want from sex. This one might help you to set the scene for sex Have the Best First Time Sex this one will help you to chat about what you like before you have sex OMG Yes, No, Hmm: work out what kind of sex you like this one will help with communication during it How We React During Sex this one will help you to think about trust Trust in Relationships.

      You might also want to check out some more specialist resources about topping and bottoming (What Does Top and Bottom Mean?) such as The Topping Book or The Bottoming Book by Dossie Easton. There’s also a zine which I co-wrote about how to talk about what kinds of sex you might want to have and how, which you can find here Though note that these resources are aimed at over 18s. If you are under 18 you might just want to really bear in mind everything I’ve said about being slow and cautious about this. It can be great, but only if you are really careful with each other and able to chat about it before, during, and after.

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