Have you ever had a sudden urge to cry after sex? If you have, you’re likely experiencing post-coital dysphoria (PCD) or as the French call it post-coital tristesse which translates into feeling sad, agitated, anxious, and depressed after sex. These melancholy feelings can take place after intimacy and last anywhere between five minutes to two hours.
It’s an emotionally strange place to be in. When you consensually opt into sex with the hopes of moving the connection to the next stage in the relationship, it can be disorienting when you don’t feel closer to your partner afterwards. On the contrary, you may feel a deep sense of blueness and alienation even if the encounter was physically satisfying. You thought it was going to make you feel good, so why do you feel this bad after sex?
And if you compare your sexual experience with how sex should be, it makes things even more confusing. Oftentimes, pop culture frames sex as an overwhelming positive affair where people seem to enjoy it from beginning to the end. It can add an extra layer of shame that you’re going through something inexplicably abnormal post-sex, distressing you further.
If you’ve experienced some post-coital depression symptoms, know that you’re not alone. Studies have shown that PCD can afflict a wide range of people and it’s frequently reported amongst both women and men. In a 2015 study, 46% of the female participants noted they’ve experienced PCD before. Another study in 2020 found that through an anonymous questionnaire, 41% of male participants noted they’ve felt depressed after sex once before with 20.2% disclosing they’ve felt it in the past month and 3-4% of the sample, reporting it’s a common occurrence for them.
What causes post-coital dysphoria?
While the underlying cause for PCD is still relatively undetermined, researchers suggest that PCD can happen for a multitude of different reasons. Let’s get into some of the common reasons for the post-sex blues, why you might feel emotional after sex, and how to best deal with it.
The French describe the orgasm as le petit mort or a little death since you completely relinquish control to your body and all of its sensations. With that lack of inhibition, surprising feelings can come out as you feel that release. Perhaps you had a really great orgasm and there’s a rush of tears as you grapple with that energy. Or maybe you didn’t experience one at all so you feel inadequate and frustrated. All of this interplays together to produce an emotional outburst.
Emotions vary across the spectrum so just because you’re experiencing something negative, it doesn’t mean anything is inherently wrong with you. Let yourself explore whatever comes up without judgment and empower yourself sexually.
Unresolved issues with your childhood and/or your mental health
Research points to past traumas including but not limited to childhood sexual abuse as a risk factor for PCD. If you had a fragmented bonding experience with your caregiver or if you’ve experienced prior physical/emotional abuse, those factors can also make you especially susceptible to depression, anxiety, and a complicated relationship with your sexuality. During intercourse, those unaddressed psychological distresses could re-surface.
If that’s the case, it may be worth it to share your feelings with someone you trust. Unpacking and exploring those stories can happen with a close friend, your intimate partner, or a mental health professional if it’s an ongoing experience for you.
Dissatisfaction with your relationship
PCD could be pointing to a subconscious feeling that you don’t feel like your partner is attending to your needs emotionally. After sex, it’s normal to engage in pillowtalk in whatever form that works for you–whether that’s breakfast, cuddles, television, or a long 5am conversation. If you aren’t receiving appropriate aftercare (i.e. your partner leaves immediately or becomes cold afterwards), your body could be responding to that by feeling bad after sex.
A helpful note to consider: although you may be experiencing PCD on your own, you should feel safe enough to share the good and the bad with your intimate partner–whether you’re casually hooking up or committed since it will only serve to enhance the connection. If you don’t feel like you can open up, your body might be unconsciously longing for something more that your person isn’t giving you. Talking about sex should feel pleasurable and fun! It’s good to air out your likes, dislikes, preferences, and what you desire in intimacy.
Tears may be unexpected but it’s really just a physical reaction pointing at something worth examining internally. In those moments, it’s important to nurture a sense of compassion for what you are going through.
Unfortunately, PCD is still under-researched and therefore under-recognized. The good news is there’s a path forward. After recognizing the signs, you can now validate your feelings and reach out to someone for help to safely process what you’re going through.
Remember that sex isn’t always about achieving an orgasm and achieving a cinematically sexy romp with your partner at all times. Intimacy is truly meant to be an expression of surrender and vulnerability, so lean into those values instead. Sharing your emotions after sex can build trust in the relationship and strengthen the connection.
Have you ever experienced this subconscious feeling?
Comment below and share your thoughts.