Almost everyone is familiar with this story: A 12-year-old boy in some small town is sitting in math class. He isn't thinking about anything in particular (or maybe he's thinking about Victoria's Secret catalogues, I don't know). Suddenly, before he can really understand what's happening, he's got an erection. It's cool, he thinks. I'll just sit here until it's over. But, in that exact moment, his teacher calls him up to the board, and he's forced to walk passed his snickering classmates and his crush, who can all see his adolescent boner.
As someone born with female anatomy, I've never had to deal with the outward signs of arousal. That all changed, however, one afternoon at the gym, when my trainer coerced me into doing 30 different core exercises on the Captain's Chair—a contraption with padded armrests that allow you to hang while you lift your legs.
I pushed my elbows into the armrest, lifted my legs, and thought about lots of things: impending death, how much I hated my trainer, the hamburger I'd eaten the night before. I grunted, sweated, cursed, and pushed my way through the routine when suddenly a warm tingly feeling came over me. More specifically the tingly feeling came over my lower abdomen.
My trainer, who hadn't noticed a change in my mood, urged me to keep working my legs. Between the pleasure sweeping across my lower body and the fact that core work still sucks (no matter how many times you cum), I didn't immediately understand that I was having an orgasm. I just knew it felt good, terrible, and weird at the same time. One minute I was struggling through the leg lifts, and the next my ab muscles gave out and I was having a legitimate vaginal orgasm. It wasn't a small one either—I had to hop down from the machine, cross my legs, bow my head, and bite my lip to contain myself.
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I had newfound empathy for that 12-year-old boy in math class. But I'm an adult woman with the ability to have secret orgasms at the gym, and that's sort of a highlight in a fairly average life.
I should explain. Exercise-induced orgasms, also known as "coregasms" are a pretty common phenomenon among women (and some men). Debby Herbenick, professor at Indiana University School of Public Health and author of The Coregasm Workout: The Revolutionary Method for Better Sex Through Exercise, found that approximately 10 percent of the population has experienced sexual pleasure during exercise. Though Herbenick believes we don't yet know the cause of coregasms, she suspects they occur mostly during core workouts when fatigued abdominal muscles might put extra pressure on the clitoris.
"We do know that they're most often linked to exercises that place significant demand on the core abdominal muscles," Herbenick tells me. "For example, we haven't yet encountered anyone who has them after two or three crunches; it's much more common after dozens of crunches or after a series of core-demanding exercises." Ah, the core workout: another tool of the patriarchy that makes me work unnecessarily hard just to rub one out.
While Herbenick says most people are fairly happy about their ability to have coregasms, she does say that, "some people wish they had more control over [coregasms] so that they could prevent it from happening, for example, in front of a trainer or during military exercise tests or training for elite athletic performance." Understandable, I suppose.
Todd Feinkind, physical therapist and director of rehabilitation at Complete Wellness in New York has worked with clients who've experienced coregasms on medicine balls (which sounds like a bit of a nightmare). He says it's not uncommon for people to feel embarrassed, but he encourages anyone who has a spontaneous exercise orgasm to stay calm, and make sure they're maintaining proper form even in the throes of pleasure. Well-played, Feinkind. If you can focus on proper form through an orgasm, you're probably ready for the CrossFit Games.
"Things happen to your body that you don't always have control over," Feinkind says. "If it's a constant situation and it makes you embarrassed, you can attempt to search out other core exercises that you do not get the same response from."
Though my experience only happened once, regular orgasms at the gym aren't far-fetched. Herbenick's research suggests that many women who experienced coregasms have had them more than 11 times during their lives, and many reported they were able to induce them whenever they want. These women reported using their Tinder apps a lot less (just kidding). Exercises that engage your core muscles like biking, yoga, running, chin-ups, and sit ups seem to have the most impact. I didn't know any of this when it happened to me, so I tried explaining it to my trainer.
"This sucks," I said, my cheeks flush with embarrassment, "But also it feels kinda good."
"It does, right?" My trainer nodded, but I could tell he didn't know I'd just made sweet, sweet love to his ab machine. After my session, I sat in my car with water in one hand and my phone in the other. I texted everyone I knew about the experience (This is the happiest day of my life. I think I just had an orgasm at the gym). When I received a barrage of LOLs in reply, I consulted Google, and discovered my orgasm was real and nothing to feel weird about.
"In the end a coregasm isn't a problem or an injury. It's a sensitivity and muscle contraction," Feinkind explains. "[I'd hope] that would give reassurance to the client." I can't speak for everyone, but it definitely made me slightly more committed to my fitness goals.
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