The experience of “coregasm,” aka an exercise-induced orgasm (EIO), is yet another aspect of pelvic health that doctors don’t yet fully understand. There is exactly one 10-year-old study on this topic, and it found that EIO was experienced by a surprising 23% of the 530 women surveyed. Of those women, the majority (51%) said they had one or more EIOs when doing sit-ups, crunches, or other ab exercises. But EIOs reportedly occurred with many other activities, including weight lifting (27%), yoga (20%), pilates (32%), running (13%), and even just walking (7%). So whether you've experienced a so-called coregasm once or every time you go to the gym, you are definitely not alone.
Contrary to what you may have read, EIO is not the result of pelvic floor contractions. While healthy pelvic floor function is correlated with improved orgasmic function, using and exercising your pelvic floor in the absence of sexual activity/thoughts does not normally lead to orgasm. (And please note that if you've had an orgasm at the gym because you were thinking sexy thoughts and stimulating your clitoris directly or indirectly — hello foam roller — that's not an EIO; it's just a regular old orgasm.)
While research on EIO is limited, we can draw on what we know about chronic pain and nervous system changes, as well as the expertise of exercise and physical therapy experts like Christina Prevett, MScPT, CSCS, PhD(c), to make some well-founded hypotheses.
Keep reading to find out more about the potential underlying mechanisms of an EIO and, if they're a problem for you, how you might be able to get some relief.
Coregasm could be a nervous system Glitch
One hypothesis to consider is that sensitization of the nervous system may facilitate the experience of EIO. Studies on chronic pain and chronic scar itch show that your nervous system can become over-sensitized in ways that exacerbate and perpetuate pain.
With chronic pain, allodynia (which describes when sensations that are not ordinarily painful become painful) is quite common. It could be that changes in the nervous system could also lead your body to become more sensitive to certain sensations felt during exercise — sensations that lead to sexual arousal and orgasm.
New research suggests that this may indeed be the case in a rare condition known as Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder (PGAD) which, like EIOs, involves unwanted sexual arousal and orgasm during non-sexual activities. In patients with PGAD, researchers found abnormalities in the sacral nerves (the nerves that control sexual arousal and orgasm) which were likely responsible for the spontaneous arousal and orgasm. When these nerve abnormalities were present, patients responded positively to treatment aimed at retraining the nervous system.
How to manage unwanted orgasms at the gym
Another hypothesis is that the autonomic nervous system is involved with EIOs. In her podcast #PTonICE, expert physical therapist Dr. Christina Prevett explains that there are many similarities in the way our body responds to exercise, sexual activity, and orgasm.
For example, Dr. Prevett reports that high-intensity exercise and sex both lead to increased heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, blood flow, vasoconstriction, and nipple erection, all of which are physiologic responses of the sympathetic nervous system (the system responsible for fight or flight).
These similarities, along with the fact that EIO most often occurs when performing high-intensity exercises focused on the muscles of the abdomen, hips, and pelvic floor, may help to explain aspects of what could be going on with EIO, hopefully leading to further research on this experience.
This insight may also help us understand how to address chronic EIO. In her podcast, Dr. Prevett goes on to discuss how activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (the system that supports rest and calm processes in the body), may help manage EIO.
To prevent EIOs with a specific exercise or activity, try these strategies:
- Reduce the difficulty of the exercise until you can talk comfortably while you do it, but not sing.
- Focus on breathing deeply and releasing tension in your pelvic floor.
By taking steps to shift your nervous system out of fight or flight and into a calmer state, you may be able to avoid the conditions that trigger an exercise-induced orgasm.
Why we need to TALK MORE about coregasm
Topics like 'coregasm' may seem sensationalistic, but talking about these very real sexual experiences is important. Scientific studies on female sexual dysfunction are seriously lacking, which typically leads to silent suffering and/or the spread of dangerous misinformation. By talking about exercise-induced orgasm and sharing info from trusted sources, we can elevate the conversation around female sexual dysfunction and encourage researchers to focus more on issues like these.
If exercise-induced orgasms are making you uncomfortable or getting in the way of your ability to stay active, talk to a doctor with experience treating female sexual dysfunction or get in touch with a pelvic floor physical therapist who can discuss your symptoms and help you get the care you need.