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You’re at the gym. It’s cardio and core day. You’re lying down on a mat, almost done with your crunches when suddenly you feel good…down there. Slightly confused but low-key OK with it, you try to finish your workout. Then mid-crunch, it hits you. The explosion of warmth and euphoria. You just had an orgasm

Fear not, horny one: Nothing is wrong with you. Arousal during exercise is a totally natural experience shared by many people (no matter how much they may deny it). 

The latest estimate shows that about 10% of people have experienced what is officially called an “exercise-induced orgasm,” coined in 2011 by Debby Herbenick, a professor at the Indiana University School of Public Health and author of The Coregasm Workout

About 5% of people (regardless of gender) reported having at least 1 to 2 exercise-induced orgasms, while around 1% reported having 11 or more of them, according to Herbenick’s 2018 study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior. Many more said they’ve been aroused during exercise, minus the climax, Herbenick found, but the prevalence isn’t clear. 

The arousal isn’t sexual by nature and has little to do with friction or pressure applied to the genitals; in fact, many people report feeling it for the first time as a child in PE class while climbing ropes or playing on swing sets. 

But surely a sexy thought can get you going no matter what you’re doing. 

It’s not clear why exercise turns some people on, but decades of research suggests it’s the result of a surge in blood flow, a rush of feel-good hormones, and a medley of muscle contractions brought on by demanding workouts that engage the core. 

One of the earliest accounts of arousal during physical activity emerged in the 1880s when women reported climaxing while operating heavy sewing machines. Orgasms have since been connected to other simple movements such as driving over bumpy roads, brushing teeth, and even peeing.

The phenomenon isn’t just some awkward or unexpectedly pleasant experience for people; it’s an area brimming with scientific exploration. The fact that some of us get horny while working out challenges everything we know about arousal and orgasms, and their intrinsic and personal sexual nature.

“If this happens to you, you’re not alone. And there’s nothing wrong with you. I view it as a natural body experience for many people. Some love it. Some are neutral, but accept it,” Herbenick said. “And of course, others really enjoy the arousal or orgasm and find it’s an extra ‘benefit’ of exercise… Like anything, it’s what you make of it.”

“It’s just how some bodies work,” she added. 

What type of exercises may make you horny and why

Workouts that engage your core muscles are the most likely to make you aroused and/or orgasm — so think crunches, hanging leg raises, and pull-ups, as well as running, swimming, cycling, lifting weights, running, and yoga. 

It’s not just the workouts themselves that can make you horny, but rather how intensely you do them. 

“I have yet to hear from anyone who experiences an orgasm or high levels of arousal from just a few crunches,” Herbenick said. “However, I’ve heard from numerous people in our studies who described exercise-induced orgasms after doing 100 or 200 or more crunches.”

On the other hand, it may take only a handful of unassisted pull-ups, which are a more demanding core exercise, to trigger strong arousal, she said. 

These types of workouts engage your pelvic floor muscles, which make up the base of your core and are fundamentally connected to your genitals. On top of supporting your bladder and bowel movements, pelvic floor muscles sustain blood flow to the vagina and penis, allowing them to contract or become hard, respectively, while sexually aroused. (Blood flow to the genitals helps you get “wet,” too.)

Movement also spurs a surge in hormones, such as estrogen, testosterone, and prolactin, which can contribute to feelings of horniness during exercise. Their impact largely depends on the kind of physical activity you do, such as resistance training versus aerobic exercise, and on other factors like whether you’re menstruating or going through menopause.

It’s possible, too, that you can lose your ability to become aroused during exercise as you age and work out less frequently, Herbenick said. But getting back in the exercise game may be all it takes to achieve the feeling again, if it’s something you look forward to and enjoy. 

What are exercise-induced orgasms like?

People with vaginas have told Herbenick that the orgasms they experience during a workout mimic the deep ones they feel during penetrative sex, so “not at all like orgasms from clitoral stimulation,” she said. 

“Genital friction” is usually not involved. It’s a much more internal sensation, but that doesn’t mean tight clothing or a piece of exercise equipment couldn’t make you feel some type of way. 

Could such friction realistically lead to orgasm while working out? Probably not, said Cindy Meston, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Why Women Have Sex.

“Very few women can attain orgasm with minimal amounts of tactile sensation,” Meston said. “They’re not going to run the risk of having an orgasm and being embarrassed — unless they are really focusing on those sensations and wanting to make it happen.” 

That said, people with vaginas often feel more comfortable with this kind of orgasmic experience because they can hide it, Herbenick pointed out, but people with penises aren’t as lucky — and we’re not just talking about boners. 

When exercise makes someone with a penis climax, they tend to skip the hard-on altogether and go straight to ejaculation, Herbenick found in her research, which can be a, uh, sticky situation. And it doesn’t only happen during exercise: one man ejaculated while loading an 18-wheeler with 55-gallon steel drums, Herbenick said, and another (on more than one occasion) while lifting heavy bags during their job as an airline baggage handler. 

Exercise-induced orgasms among people with penises are also a more internal or full-body experience, with people likening them to orgasms from prostate stimulation. But if someone is actually sexually aroused, then they can surely develop a stiffy while working out. 

“If that happens, they should try their usual strategies (distracting thoughts, etc.) to help the erection go down so they don’t make things awkward or uncomfortable for those around them,” Herbenick said. 

But some people just can’t suppress these sensations. Elite athletes and people in the military, for example, who are subject to train at high levels, have expressed problems with intense arousal or public ejaculation, Herbenick told us. 

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about it.

“The physicians I’ve heard from do not have a medical approach to this and instead just encourage people to adjust their training to see if that can reduce the likelihood of it happening,” Herbenick said.

Much less is known about exercise-induced arousal and orgasm among transgender people who take hormones or have gender-affirming surgery, according to Herbenick. “It’s an area ripe for research,” she said. Little is known about how menopause might affect these experiences as well. 

Arousal during exercise isn’t really “sexual” — but it can be

It can be confusing to suddenly feel aroused during a workout, but there’s nothing inherently unusual about it. Most people who climax during exercise say that they don’t view the experience as “sexual” — but that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy it. 

“Some do enjoy the sensation, may come to expect it, and feel like there can be sexual aspects to it,” Herbenick said. “It’s more just a way their body responds to very intense exercises that often engage the core abdominal muscles in demanding ways.”

Of course, the mind is a force to be reckoned with. Fantasizing about your sex life can certainly turn you on while exercising; you just might want to limit the daydreaming to solo workout sessions.

The extra blood flow that exercise drives to your genitals could also trigger thoughts that may make the experience become a more sexual one, according to Meston, who has studied the effects of exercise on sexual arousal for over 25 years.

“It could be as simple as someone detecting blood engorgement in their genitals and that in turn triggers a sexual thought and intensifies the psychological experience of sexual arousal,” Meston said. “So it doesn’t have to come from the brain or some external influence; the sexual stimulation could actually be the genital response.

You can use exercise arousal to spice up your sex life

There’s no denying the benefits consistent exercise has on your sex life. It helps you feel better about your body, boosts your mood, and enhances cardiovascular health, which can improve sexual satisfaction and well-being overall.

But you can use your random bursts of arousal during exercise to your advantage.  

Some people have told Herbenick that they exercise with their partners as a form of foreplay; for others, waiting some time after a workout may be most beneficial to their sex drive and performance. Meston learned in her research that exercise “prepares” people with vaginas for sexual arousal so when they are in a sexual situation, “her body responds more quickly and intensely.” 

An older study of Meston’s found that 20 minutes post workout was associated with the greatest blood flow to the vagina, “a hallmark of genital arousal in women,” she said, which suggests there’s an “optimal time” for sexual activity after exercise.

But feeling horny during exercise doesn’t mean you actually want to have sex. 

“The most common misinterpretation I hear is that these genital sensations will lead women wanting to have sex or make decisions about sex just because they’re in a state of arousal, but that’s just really not the case,” Meston said. (The same is likely true of people with penises, but Meston’s research only focused on those with vaginas.) “In order for these sensations to be sexual, the woman needs to interpret the situation as sexual arousal. It’s not that we are just simply driven by our physiology. Conscious decision-making is a very big part of what happens next.”

With that being said, you can take further advantage of exercise arousal by using it to better understand your body and how it responds to certain stimuli. You can then take these lessons and “apply it to your personal sexual life to enhance both desire and arousal,” Herbenick said. 

Working out could also be an effective way to combat sexual difficulties caused by antidepressants or hormonal deficiencies, Meston said, and can be a more appealing or accessible form of treatment compared with sex therapy or medication.

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