Coregasm was first discussed through anecdotal accounts in 1953. Sexologist Alfred Kinsey wrote in Sexual Behavior in the Human Female that 5% of women he spoke with mentioned experiencing orgasms during exercise. This kicked off a now decades-old conversation that has gone from labs and hushed locker-room chats to mainstream media. A few years ago, researchers from Indiana University reported in the journal Sexual and Relationship Therapy that this phenomenon was relatively common — of the 530 women they surveyed online, 370 experienced either an exercise-induced orgasm (EIO), or exercise-induced sexual pleasure (EISP).
In the earlier study, authors Debby Herbenick and J. Dennis Fortenberry wrote that while women in both the EIO and EISP categories reported feeling happy about their experiences, those who reached full climax admitted embarrassment and concern that they were being noticed by fellow gym-goers.
“It’s an odd feeling in your body, as opposed to an all-encompassing kind of feeling,” CrossFit athlete Sharon told the CrossFit Journal. “You’re more in control. It feels very muscular. I can feel them coming on, and if I continue doing reps, I’ll get to the point of climax. But, if I had paused halfway up the rope, for example, I probably could have let it pass.”
“There doesn't seem to be a concrete pattern of muscle activation that causes [coregasms], which could mean the mechanisms of action are as varied for EIO as for non-EIO stimulation,” explains kinesiologist and personal trainer Dean Somerset, CSCS. “It's highly individual, but it could also come down to biomechanical alignment, individual anatomical differences, muscle strength, and emotional state at the time.”
Somerset, along with fellow personal trainer Bret Contreras, MA, CSCS, recently revisited the coregasm conversation at a fitness summit. “Contreras...proposed a mechanism by which friction from the rectus abdominis muscle (the main six-pack muscle) could cause stimulation through the clitoris,” explains Somerset. “I disagreed, as it seemed like a big stretch that the two would be involved together, especially when some things like cycling — where there's direct compression — didn't cause as much of a stimulus in many women.”
As a result of this debate, the duo proposed three theories — abdominal friction, pelvic-floor recoil, and hypertonic pelvic-floor nerves — and asked the public to weigh in via an anonymous, online survey. Of those who answered, most point to the pelvic-floor recoil theory (which states that pelvic-floor contractions cause stimulation by increasing pressure in multiple planes), as being the most plausible.
“The phenomenon doesn't happen exclusively with women,” Somerset explains. “Men report a similar incidence rate, but the mechanisms may be completely different, since the anatomy is different. My theory is that it occurs through prostate stimulation, but it's not something we've investigated deeply as of yet.”
Many women have indicated that pleasure occurs after a few reps or sets, or once the muscles feel fatigued. “The range of exercises that people said gave them the greatest EIO sensations was quite interesting, especially as some had no immediately observable connection to...the pelvis,” Somerset says. “Hanging leg raises was far and away the most common occurrence, followed by pull-ups or chin-ups, hip thrusts, squats (with or without weight), and hamstring curls,” he adds.
There's clearly more research still to be done, but if busting out a few extra reps of an ab exercise can produce the same sensations as toying around with a vibrator (or partner), we’ll consider this particular fitness mystery a win-win.
The women involved in the Indiana University study reported that other activities, including weight-lifting, running, yoga, and swimming also produced happy endings. “Surprisingly, running seems to be a very common [source of orgasm],” explains Somerset.
“Exercise can create physiological and mental precursors of arousal, which can lead to orgasm,” Kerner explains. Even if you're not getting a pleasure payoff during exercise, strengthening the muscles of your pelvic floor can help enhance your orgasms, whenever they occur — check out our simple workout routine that targets these “sexytime” muscles. Either way, your gym habit just got way sexier.