Recently, sex educators and counselors have noticed a surprising trend of non-consensual rough sex. We see examples of rough sex in the media all the time — as in Euphoria, 50 Shades of Grey, and in lots and lots of porn. In porn, rough sex is so normalized that we almost never see people having conversations about consent beforehand — yet, it seems all parties involved enjoy it. For viewers, this can send a confusing message. It tells us consent is implied and doesn't need to be actively given. All these portrayals of rough sex may be factors as to why there's a rising trend of non-consensual rough sex — at least this is what a recent study found per The Atlantic.
In the study, a reported quarter of U.S. women said they felt "scared during sex”.
Rough sex can mean different things to different people, but generally it’s when sex feels particularly fast, hard, or animalistic. It can involve slapping, choking, spitting, or any other act to intensify the situation or sensation. Some people find rough sex to be hot and passionate, while others not so much. For this reason, it’s always necessary to get enthusiastic consent before and during engaging in any form of rough play. When someone, for instance, assumes their partner will enjoy being choked, and just goes for it without asking first, it certainly does not count as consent.
Any kind of unexpected rough play can be shocking or scary if partners haven’t discussed it, and can trigger unwanted negative feelings, emotions, or memories as well. It’s possible that at some point you might be with a partner who has experienced past physical or sexual abuse. They might not be ready to talk about it or tell you the full story just yet. Even if someone hasn’t experienced abuse in the past, unexpected rough play could bring unwanted, triggering feelings.
What you can do is ask what they are really interested in or comfortable doing in bed, and what their hard boundaries are. This kind of communication is vital because folks who experience unexpected rough play may not know how to respond in the moment; their brain may enter a fight-or-flight state, or may feel pressured to keep going even if they’re uncomfortable.
But there’s no reason you should feel like you have to have sex that scares you or makes you feel uncomfortable or bad in any way.
Want to try rough sex with your partner? That’s OK, but consider doing these things first.
The best thing to do is always ask. Ask for consent, ask what they like, and ask for feedback.
Sex is about making sure everyone feels good and knows what they’ve agreed to do. It’s a mutual experience that partners get to build together. Both partners have a right to express their needs and desires and expect that those needs will be respected.
These conversations aren’t a one-time thing – they should happen before, during, and after things get hot and heavy!
Discuss what fun, sexy activities you want to do. Start the conversation about what you and your partner like and what your boundaries are.
Even if you’re both on board to try something new, like handcuffs or spanking, it’s still a good idea to come up with a way to check in with each other while you’re getting busy, like a safe word. A safe word can be anything you and your partner choose. It can simply be “stop” or it can be a random word like “pineapple.” It serves as a clear signal to stop in case something gets uncomfortable or feels off at any point.
It’s always possible one (or both) of you could get carried away in the moment, so it’s important to know how to check in with each other. Even if it’s something non-physical, like dirty talk, knowing a partner’s boundaries ahead of time can make for an even sexier experience (i.e. they like being called “baby” but not “bitch”).
Remember that consent can be revoked at any point during sexual activity. Even if you agreed to try something ahead of time, or if your partner decided to surprise you, you have the right to tell your partner to stop.
You can try being direct: “Wait, stop, that doesn’t feel good/that’s uncomfortable” or “I don’t like being spanked/called ‘slut’/_____”.
Or you can try to redirect: “Can you go back to doing _____? That felt good,” or “Let’s switch positions/I want to get back on top/etc.)”
Also, you can always take a break (“Let’s stop for a second”) to make out, cuddle, talk about what’s going on, or decide if and how you want to keep going at all.
Check in with your partner. See how they’re feeling in that moment, and share your experience. What felt good? What was something that didn’t work so well? Was there anything that needs to be adjusted to make it more comfortable for next time (i.e. nipples pinched harder or softer)?
On the other hand, if you want to learn about ways to have consensual sex with rough or kinky elements, take some time to learn about the importance of physical safety that goes along with it.
Without knowing much about the body’s physiology or the materials of toys involved, partners run the risk of pulled muscles or even nerve damage. It’s important to get educated through articles and informational videos, like How To Do Bondage For Beginners, so that you and your partner are equipped and prepared to expand your horizons in the bedroom.
Whether this kind of play floats your boat or not, the most important thing is that you and your partner each bring your own personal wants and desires to the table and get to build your unique sexual experience together as a team.
If you don’t feel like you or your boundaries were respected, or if you had an experience you don’t know how to feel about but aren’t ready to talk to your partner about it, consider talking through those feelings with a close friend, or a confidential and non-judgmental resource like the national sexual assault hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).