Almost everywhere we look we receive messages about the positive feelings we receive from having sex.
Sexual activity (and the experience of an orgasm) releases Oxytocin, “the cuddle hormone,” which can make us feel closer and more emotionally connected to our partner. Having sex has also been found to boost our mood and even give life meaning.1 And the afterglow of having satisfying sex is found to promote greater well-being up to 48 hours later.2
However, there are some people who, after having consensual sex with someone they care for, report experiencing negative feelings; and it’s been termed postcoital dysphoria.
Postcoital Dysphoria: 101
Postcoital dysphoria (sometimes nicknamed “the post-sex blues”) is a term to describe a wide range of negative emotions that can follow wanted sexual activity. That is, this term would not be applicable to negative feelings we might feel after a regrettable one night stand, sex that was coerced, or worse, non consensual. Rather, postcoital dysphoria refers to feelings of sadness, irritability, agitation, anxiety, and depression, that occurs after having consensual sex with a partner whom we like or even love.
Who Experiences It?
Up until recently the focus on postcoital dysphoria research has been on women. In one study of 230 college aged women, researchers found that almost half of the women (about 46%) reported symptoms of postcoital dysphoria at least once in their life. And a much smaller, but still noteworthy number, of women (5.1%) reported experiencing those symptoms over the last four weeks.3 In another study of 222 female university students 32.9% reported experiencing postcoital dysphoria at some point in their lives while 10% reported those experiences occurring in the last 4 weeks.4
But recent research suggests that it may be a common experience among men as well. Specifically, in a 2018 study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, an analysis of over 1200 men, found that 41% reported experiencing post coital blues at least once over the course of their lifetime, 20% reported the experience at least once in the last four weeks, and just over 3% reported experiencing post coital blues on a regular basis.5
What Causes the Post-Sex Blues?
The literature on postcoital dysphoria is quite scarce. As a result we currently only have a limited understanding of the underlying causes. However, the research to date does suggests that genetics in addition to personal characteristics (such as higher emotional reactivity and difficulty differentiating) and attachment style (specifically, anxious attachment and avoidant attachment) appear to play a role.3 It has also been found that a history of childhood sexual assault or trauma can be a predictor of life-long postcoital blues in some women.3 It is important to note that these factors are only found to account for a very small amount of the variance in postcoital dysphoria, meaning there are likely many other, and perhaps larger, explanations at play that have yet to be uncovered.
The experience of post-coital blues doesn’t necessarily mean that the sex was bad or that something is inherently wrong with your relationship (although of course, if the sex was dissatisfying or painful, or you are doubting your relationship, it would make perfect sense to have some negative feelings after having sex with your partner).
Having sex can be a vulnerable act and it may bring to the surface a number of hidden feelings and emotions. If you’re feeling sad, irritable, anxious or depressed after having sex, you may benefit from some self-reflection and/or meeting with a counselor or therapist to help understand what might be underlying those feelings for you.