Whether your main experience with aggressive sex thus far includes bingeing the Fifty Shades series or you're a seasoned pro at incorporating hair pulling, lip biting, and spanking into your bedroom repertoire, it can feel like there's always more to learn about having rough sex — especially because the definition is a fluid one.
Kate Balestrieri, Psy.D., sex and intimacy therapist and founder of Modern Intimacy, explains, "The definition of rough sex is very subjective and varies on every person's threshold of pain and discomfort." But no matter what it looks like to you, "consent is imperative," she adds.
Here, how to figure out if rough sex is for you — and the best practices for having the most pleasurable experience, according to experts.
How to Explore Your Desire to Have Rough Sex
You might find yourself feeling inspired to try more aggressive sexual acts after seeing it in a movie, porn, or talking about it with a partner who has experienced it, explains Balestrieri.
Or it's possible that you'll find yourself yearning for more during what would be considered non-rough, or vanilla, sex. And while you might not know what that means at first, you could start to learn more about what you like by engaging in a rough act with a partner and finding it opens up a whole new portal of excitement and curiosity for you, says Balestrieri.
Interest in rougher play might also stem from wanting to address a feeling of stagnance or lack of electricity with a partner, says Molly Godfrey, a trained dating and intimacy coach in New York City. "Is there a desire to experience different forms of pleasure together? Is there a desire to explore more submissive/dominant roles in your relationship? Is there a desire to strengthen your communication by adding in more intensity?" she asks.
Regardless of the initial impetus, it can be exhilarating to bring intensity into sex, says Chavez. "Rough, aggressive behavior is considered taboo and naughty, so it feels even more arousing," she explains.
A few steps to take when you're first dipping your toe in these waters:
Tap into your imagination.
Zhana Vrangalova, Ph.D., NYU professor of Human Sexuality and a sexpert for LELO, suggests imagining activities that could constitute rough sex. This could include hair pulling, slapping, pinning down, aggressive dirty talk, hard and fast penetration, spitting, bondage, etc.
Shannon Chavez, Psy.D., a psychologist and sex therapist in Los Angeles suggests watching ethical porn that displays rough play to see how you feel in your body as you are experiencing all of the visual cues, sounds, and intensity. "There are also books and sex education videos on the topic, and sex therapy and coaching are also a place to explore how to incorporate rough play dynamics into the relationship in a way that is consensual and enjoyable for all partners," she notes.
Initiate a conversation.
To get the ball rolling, you might tell your partner that you'd be curious to try any of the above acts that resonate with you, says Vrangalova. Or if you're feeling slightly less assertive, you could send them a porn clip that you like, which could fuel further discussion.
Chavez adds, "Go into the conversation with an open mind and without judgement. Talking about a sexual fantasy or desire is vulnerable, and you don't want to shame your partner for being curious and open about a sexual desire like rough sex. Open up dialogue around your fantasies and desires of how to be pleasured and taken care of during a rough sexual experience."
Define what rough sex means to you.
Once you've started talking, get more clear about how you define pleasurable rough sex. "Make 'yes,' 'no,' and 'maybe' list," suggests Balestrieri. "Think about what you know you want to explore, the things you definitely don't want to explore, and the things you might be curious about but aren't sure feel right to you."
Bear in mind that this can be a dynamic list, on which you could adjust what falls under "yes," "no," and "maybe" as you go.
Talk about the “why”s.
Vrangalova says it can be helpful to build out a scenario with your partner that sets up the psychological domination/submission dynamic that forms the basis of the rough sex. Go over questions like:
- Why am I being rough with you or you're being rough with me?
- What roles are we playing here?
- What punishments are we doling out?
You want to be as relaxed and present as possible ahead of any sexual experience, and when it comes to rough sex, especially, our experts say that it's important to bookend the experience with gentle, loving intimacy-building (e.g. soft caressing, cuddling). "It creates some separation between how you feel about and treat each other normally versus during the rough sex session," notes Vrangalova.
Best Practices for Having Rough Sex
No matter what rough sex looks like for you and your partner, it can help to frame the experience you're about to have as an opportunity to explore. "It can feel vulnerable to try things out and have a less than enjoyable time, so detach from the outcome and enjoy learning," says Chavez.
Try these moves to promote an individualized, pleasurable experience.
Start out with acts you already enjoy.
There's no need to dive headfirst into bondage or spanking. You can go slow and start with less intense or involved acts, and see how that feels, knowing that you can build greater intensity over the course of an individual session or multiple ones, says Vrangalova.
Also, consider cranking up the intensity of activities that you already do on a regular basis, suggests Chavez. Maybe you'll engage in some light lip biting or dirty talk.
Then try other acts on your “yes” list.
Vrangalova says this might include:
- Biting (any genital and non-genital body parts).
- Hair pulling
- Ass/breasts/face slapping
- Over-the-knee spanking
- More aggressive dirty talk
- Hard and fast penetration
- Pinning down
- Light bondage
- Face or mouth spitting
"Keep in mind some of these things are beginner level in terms of the skill needed to perform them but can be psychologically-triggering for certain people, so always check in with your partner," she notes.
Continue to get consent frequently throughout the experience.
Speaking of checking in, making it clear that you and your partner both enthusiastically consent — before and repeatedly during — any of these sex acts is crucial, says Balestrieri. She recommends that you keep checking in throughout play and making sure your partner hasn't disassociated or disconnected from thoughts, emotions, sensations, surroundings, etc.
"You want to make sure you're staying very present," she says. "If your partner is saying 'yes, please, give me more,' you can probably trust that they're really into it. If they are more quiet or subdued and if their confidence wanes, check in with them more."
Have the right tools at hand.
Although you don't necessarily need any tools when you're first starting out, as there are so many rough sex acts that can be done with nothing but your body, a numer of tools can come in handy, says Vrangalova.
She recommends having any of the following in your toolkit:
- A blindfold
- Impact equipment (belt, flogger, cane, paddle)
- Bondage equipment (handcuffs, rope, other restraints)
- Nipple clamps
"Rough sex taxes both our emotional and physical capacities in ways that more gentle sex does not," says Vrangalova. For that reason, you'll want to set aside time after aggressive sex play to recover from the experience, see to each other's emotional and physical needs, and reconnect with each other outside the rough sex context, she notes.
"Different people need different types of aftercare, so think about what you might need physically — cuddles, food, drink, blanket — or emotionally — verbal processing of the experience, reassurance of love and care, some space/distance — and communicate that with your partner," explains Vrangalova.
And while you're debriefing what just happened, Godfrey suggests giving specific examples of what you felt. "Naming a body part helps," she notes. "It might sound something like, 'There was moment when you were doing XYZ, and I felt this buzzing sensation in this part of my body, it felt kind of like XYZ.'" Doing this allows you to not only process what you experienced but allow your partner to connect with your perspective as well.
Throughout all of your experimentation with rough sex, it's important to be open-minded with yourself and your partner, emphasizes Balestrieri.
"Try not to put any judgment on why you like the things you like or why they like what they like," she says, noting that the fact is that rough sex can stimulate your nervous system in its own unique way, and enjoying these acts says nothing moral or value-based about who you or your partner are as people.
The bottom-line, according to Balestrieri: "When we withhold judgment, we can be far more expansive in our ability to give and receive pleasure."
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