What Is Rough Sex, Who Does It, and Who Likes It? Findings from a Probability Sample of U.S. Undergraduate Students

Arch Sex Behav. 2021 Apr;50(3):1183-1195. doi: 10.1007/s10508-021-01917-w. Epub 2021 Feb 9.


Using data from an undergraduate probability sample, we aimed to: (1) describe the prevalence and demographic characteristics of students who reported having engaged in rough sex with their current partner; (2) assess which sexual behaviors students consider to be rough sex; (3) describe the frequency with which participants report engaging in rough sex as well as their reports of initiating and liking rough sex, in relation to gender and sexual identity; and (4) examine predictors of rough sex frequency. Participants were 4998 students randomly sampled from a large Midwestern university who completed a confidential Internet-based survey (2453 women, 2445 men, 41 gender non-binary, 36 transgender or other gender non-conforming identities). Within these, 1795 individuals who reported a romantic/sexual partner of at least 3 months responded to questions about engaging, liking, and initiating rough sex. The most common behaviors participants considered to be rough sex were choking, hair pulling, and spanking. Transgender and gender non-binary students more often endorsed behaviors as rough sex. Also, rough sex was conceptualized as multidimensional, with one cluster being more consistent with earlier conceptualizations of rough sex (e.g., hair pulling, spanking) and the second cluster including behaviors such as choking, slapping, punching, and making someone have sex. About 80% of those with a current sexual or romantic partner engaged in rough sex with them and most who engaged it liked it. Bisexual women reported greater rough sex frequency and enjoyment (54.1% indicated enjoying it "very much"). Implications for sexuality research and education are discussed.

Keywords: BDSM; College sexuality; Rough sex; Sexual choking; Spanking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Probability
  • Sampling Studies
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Students / psychology*
  • Young Adult