From Big Ow to Big O
If you think about it, exercise has a lot in common with sex: You get nice and sweaty, a killer playlist makes you want to work harder, a towel always comes in handy, and a tall glass of cold water afterwards feels mighty refreshing. But lately, my workout routine has been mirroring my hanky panky in one very special way: I can't seem to crank out a set of abdominal moves without having an orgasm.
(Pause for applause.)
Yes, while most women leave a hardcore workout feeling the Big Ow, lately, my Plank Swipes and Single Leg Stretches have been delivering the Big O. It all started when a friend loaned me her Tracy Anderson Post-Pregnancy Workout DVD; once my OB/GYN cleared me to resume abdominal work following my C-section, I popped that sucker in, laid a towel down on our living room floor, and got to work. The video started innocently enough: an easy crunch here, an impossible pike series there. But about seven minutes in, I noticed this routine was feeling a lot, umm, hotter than most. And it had nothing to do with friction -- it seemed the harder I contracted my abs, the better it felt. Before I knew it, I'd eked out about eight orgasms, while my husband toiled away in the nursery just a few feet away, changing our newborn daughter's ninth poopy diaper of the day.
Later that week, at the gym, it happened again, this time while working on a BOSU Ball. Admittedly, this isn't the first time I've climaxed at the gym; once, while researching a sex story, I was asked to wear a pearl thong for a day and report back on my bedazzled adventures. Let's just say, once I discovered the magical combination of genital jewelry and the Pilates Reformer, I cultivated quite the six-pack.
I e-mailed some friends to see who else had ever been in serious need of a cool down after a workout. After sorting through the jokey responses (My personal favorite: "I started banging on the weights to release the frustration of not having an orgasm from the 'dumbbell' I was sleeping with!"), I realized I was hardly alone in my health club climaxes. Lucy,* 34, revealed that her first ever orgasm occurred during gymnastics practice as a teenager.
"My coach challenged us to a hanging leg raise contest," she recalls. "At first I just thought I felt awesome because I was winning, but then after the last girl dropped I was still going. Everyone was like, 'You won! You can come down now,' and I was like, 'No way! I'm going to keep going until my arms detach!' I didn't know what it was at the time but that was my first official O."
Mara, 36, used to experience fireworks while jogging as a college student. (Her parents' house was 120 miles away and she liked to joke that she would jog home every weekend just to do laundry -- and enjoy the accompanying Os.) And in her early 20s, Alexandra, now 53, used to call the Roman Chair at her gym "The Orgasmatron."
*Name has been changed to protect the multi-orgasmic
The Experts Weigh In
I dialed up Alison Sadowy, a pelvic floor physical therapist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to find out why I was suddenly feeling compelled to ditch my Rabbit for an ab mat. As it turns out, our abdominal wall and pelvic floor muscles share an attachment at the pelvis. "When you squeeze your abs, you're probably unknowingly also contracting your pelvic floor muscles to stabilize your core," she explained. "Orgasm is a pleasure contraction of the pelvic floor muscles, so by contracting them, they just do what they do best."
According to Debby Herbenick, PhD, codirector of Indiana University's Center for Sexual Health Promotion and author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure & Satisfaction, about 5 to 10 percent of women have experienced exercise-induced orgasm. Her research suggests that the most common culprits are abs exercises, climbing poles or ropes, weight lifting, and biking/spinning (no wonder women pay $34 for a single SoulCycle session!), and that the exerciser needn't bring 50 Shades of Grey onto the StairMaster for it to happen. "Many of the women in our study indicated that they weren't even thinking about sex [at the time,]" she says.
For Lucy, gym orgasms (or "coregasms," as she calls them) have paid off well in the bedroom. "As I got older, I became better at controlling the movement to provide just the right amount of pressure so I didn't have to do hanging leg raises until I collapsed," she says. "Learning that control has helped me so much in my sex life now, especially in being able to tell my husband what I want, what kind of positions I like, plus it's enabled me to have as many orgasms in a row as I (and my husband) have energy for."
If getting off at Gold's proves too distracting, Sadowy suggests focusing on isolating your abs while relaxing your pelvic floor (imagine the opposite of a Kegel.) Or reduce the time you're holding the position, to avoid the build in tension. Other than that, she sees nothing wrong with a little workout bump 'n' grind. "Anything that motivates people to stay healthy is encouraged," she says.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, February 2013.