What does 'rough sex' actually mean?

Researchers are embarking on a study to find out more about what some people call ‘rough sex’ and what they think the term means.

Professor Nicola Gavey

During the trial of Jesse Kempson for the murder of British tourist Grace Millane, Kempson’s defence claimed that her death was the result of a terrible accident.

"They said it was ‘rough sex’ gone wrong,” says researcher Professor Nicola Gavey from the University of Auckland's School of Psychology.

“But it’s not entirely clear what people mean by the term ‘rough sex’ and we want to explore that in this study.”

The researchers are asking for help to get a clearer picture of what people think ‘rough sex’ is. Is it actually a thing? And if it is, what do people think about it, and how do people experience sex that might fall into this category?

“We need more information on how people draw the line so that hurting – and in extreme cases killing – people can’t be minimised as ‘just rough sex’.”

Very little research has been done in this area, and some of the findings from overseas are contradictory. A few studies have found that some of the sexual acts that some people call ‘rough sex’ are relatively common.

Professor Gavey says overseas studies have shown that the behaviours some people call ‘rough sex’ are associated with fear during sex and might not always be wanted by the other person. A recent poll conducted in the UK for the BBC found that more than a third of women under 40 had experienced unwanted slapping, choking, gagging or spitting during consensual sex.

“This raises questions about what the boundaries are between apparently consensual ‘rough sex’ and sexual coercion and violence,” she says.

The study consists of an online survey and is open to people of all genders. It also involves face-to-face interviews where people can share personal stories and is aimed at finding out more from a wide range of people, including those who have had sexual experiences that could be called rough sex – whether positive or negative – as well as those who do not have personal experience.

Anyone interested in completing the online survey, can go to https://auckland.au1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_1N9mjsFlH5IBTca

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