Afterglow. It’s that warm, contented feeling most of us experience after sex as we lie panting and recovering our breath. It’s generally one of the best features of sex, promoting intimacy and strengthening romantic bonds. But not for everyone. For some, even after great sex, the post-sex glow is tainted with feelings of negativity, self-doubt and embarrassment.
This state of feeling unhappy after satisfying and consensual sex is being referred to increasingly commonly as ‘postcoital dysphoria’. And while ‘coital’ refers specifically to sex, the condition itself can occur after masturbation, after orgasm, after foreplay, or after any non-penetrative sexual activity, with a partner or alone.
While half of us have experienced this feeling to one degree or another over our lifetimes, research suggested that only around 3% of us experience it regularly, with men suffering from it very slightly more than women—but that might not be the case. More recent research in the Journal of Sexual Medicine has taught us that far more people experience this phenomenon than we thought, and the symptoms of it are wider too.
In this new study, as many as 90% said they had experienced feelings of sadness, unhappiness, frustration, agitation, mood swings, flu-like symptoms, or low energy at last once in the past four weeks immediately after sex or masturbation, even if that sex or masturbation was satisfying. While the study wasn’t without flaws, as all studies into human sexuality inevitably are, there is much that can be learned from it.
Postcoital dysphoria is a temporary mood drop after sex. It’s now reported often enough that it’s statistically significant, but is seriously lacking in scientific study – as is the way with so much of our complex sex lives.
What is post coital depression?
Another term for a similar scenario is postcoital tristesse, or post-sex sadness. It’s not clear if these two things are the same or not, but one thing is relatively clear: it’s not depression. Depression is a medically attested condition. Postcoital dysphoria seems to be temporary, common, and not chronic – although the research suggests that it is linked with wider depression, it doesn’t seem to be a condition in its own right.
Is there a cure?
The question “is there a cure?” implies a more important question: “is there a problem?” I’d speculate that there is not. Let’s identify if there’s anything that needs to be cured before we start talking about how to cure it. Now, assuming we’re talking about the medically (semi-)attested dysphoria rather than depression, the “cure” is likely to be dependent on the person experiencing it. Time, talking, intimacy (or space, for some) and rest are key.
Let’s not forget that if you experience dysphoria after sex to such an extent that you’re worried that there may be an issue, then the issue may be some factor unrelated to sex. Perhaps an existing depressive condition may be at work, or perhaps you’re not hydrated enough. Until the necessary research is done, we can’t commit to answer, and you should discuss it with a qualified health professional.
Why does it happen?
Again, this needs investigation, so it’s not possible to say with any certainty. However, post-sex sadness is reported so widely that it might be considered entirely normal. If that’s the case, then the reason for its existence might be an evolutionary one. Perhaps a sense of sadness after sex helps to strengthen the intimate bond between partners. Perhaps the reason is rooted in a sudden biochemical change after sex. Until science finds time in its busy schedule to devote to this, we can only speculate.
What does it mean?
Likely it doesn’t “mean” anything, and any meaning ascribed to it is a projection of the person experiencing it. As unsatisfying an answer as this is, sometimes our bodies do things beyond our control, which means beyond our consciousness, which means beyond meaning, in an emotional sense. However, if you experience it and it means something to you, then speak to a health professional.
What are post coital depression symptoms?
The reason I’d like to resist the phrase “post-coital depression” is because it has some linguistic symmetry with “post-partum depression”. Post-partum depression is very real, very serious and very complex. There’s no reason to think post-coital sadness is anything other than completely normal. By conflating the two terms, post-coital and post partum depression, we risk demeaning the importance of post-partum depression, and we can’t afford to do that.