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Why Do I Cry After Sex? It Could Be Postcoital Dysphoria

by | Mar 30, 2021 | MENS HEALTH, SEXUALITY, WOMENS HEALTH

A woman wonders, "Why do I cry after sex?" Hint: It could be Postcoital Dysphoria.

You’ve just finished having sex—and you burst into tears. Whether it’s a few sobs or a full blubber-fest, Postcoital Dysphoria can be a confusing experience for you and your partner, and leave you wondering, “Why do I cry after sex?”

While crying after sex may feel a little odd at first, for many people, it’s a normal response to positive feelings like joy, love, or tension release.

But what if the feelings behind your post-sex cry feel darker? Feeling depressed, worried, or irritable after sex is called postcoital dysphoria, and it’s much more common than you might think. Let’s take a closer look at this under-researched but widespread phenomenon.

What Is Postcoital Dysphoria?

Crying is a natural response to intense feelings – and good sex can be intense.

You may feel a strong connection or experience an amazing orgasm. Sex can flood our brains with dopamine and oxytocin. These neurotransmitters are associated with feelings of love, connection, and happiness.

In short, there are plenty of reasons to be feeling good after sex and be crying all the same. If you feel good during a post-sex sob, there’s no reason to worry or try to stop.

Crying after sex can become a problem, however, if you feel bad, too.

If you feel sad, anxious, or irritable after sex, you may be experiencing postcoital dysphoria (PCD). It’s a medical term for the post-sex blues. Postcoital tristesse is another common term, originating from the French word triste, which means sad.

It’s normal to feel a little let-down after a lackluster sexual experience every now and then. PCD, however, is characterized by more intense and upsetting feelings. While it’s not always accompanied by crying, it is always characterized by a feeling of sadness, agitation, or depression.

Postcoital dysphoria can occur after an enjoyable and consensual sexual encounter. The resulting sobs can confuse both you and your partner, causing relationship problems and exacerbating sexual dysfunction, such as performance anxiety.

Postcoital dysphoria is under-researched, but studies suggest that it’s extremely common among both men and women. A study published in Sexual Medicine and focused on women found that 46 percent of respondents had experienced PCD at least once in their lifetime, while 5.1% had experienced symptoms within the past four weeks.

Another study, published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, found that 41% of the 1,208 men surveyed reported feeling Postcoital Dysphoria symptoms at some point in their lives, and 20% had experienced it within the past four weeks.

Why Do I Cry After Sex? The Causes of Postcoital Dysphoria

Some people experiencing Postcoital Dysphoria immediately recognize its underlying source. Others may have more difficulty finding an explanation. There are many different possible causes of Postcoital Dysphoria. Here are a few of those potential causes:

Relationship and Intimacy Issues

Sex doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Sex with a relationship partner is part of the relationship’s dynamics. Sex with a non-partner still involves physical and emotional intimacy. Even sex for one–masturbation–can bring up plenty of feelings about your body and your sexuality.

Your feelings, especially surrounding intimacy, your body, and sexual and non-sexual relationships, can come much closer to the surface during sex. Sometimes those feelings are negative. Remembering prior infidelity, for example, can bring up past pain and fears about the future.

Even if you prefer to avoid thinking about relationship and intimacy issues, Post coital Dysphoria can signal that something needs to change. Talk therapy can help you sort out underlying problems. Therapy can support both individuals and couples in navigating these issues.

Feelings of Guilt or Shame

Many people have been raised to associate sexuality with shame, evil, or being dirty. Those associations may be especially strong for people who have been told that their bodies, sexual histories, or orientations are wrong.

Even if you’ve rejected these ideas in adulthood, they can still trigger intense emotions related to sex. Talking to a certified sex therapist can help you understand how your past influences your present feelings after sex. Gaining that understanding is the first step towards letting go of negative pairings or destructive associations.

Depression and Anxiety

Depression and anxiety are common yet serious mental health conditions. If you have depression or anxiety, feelings of sadness, hopelessness, fear, or agitation can affect virtually every element of your life. Even if you feel better during an enjoyable sexual encounter, your symptoms may return or even intensify afterward.

Depression and anxiety are treatable, though the right treatment looks different for everyone. Some kinds of medications, such as SSRIs, can lower your libido. Your medical team can work with you to find a treatment that balances your sexual needs with your overall mental health.

Personal Trauma

Sexual trauma includes any form of non-consensual sex. It encompasses both sexual abuse such as rape and non-physical abuse such as sexual harassment or body shaming.

Sexual encounters can be triggering for people who have experienced sexual trauma. Certain feelings, positions, or other details may be especially triggering if they evoke aspects of the traumatic incident(s).

Trauma can cause feelings of fear, sadness, and disassociation both during and after sexual encounters. People dealing with non-sexual trauma, such as combat zone PTSD, can also experience PCD symptoms.

There are many therapeutic approaches to treating trauma, including cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, and medications.

If trauma is triggering your Postcoital Dysphoria, therapy addressing the root cause can help. Recognizing your triggers and communicating with your partner can help make your sexual encounters less triggering and more enjoyable.

Physical Pain

If sex or any sex positions are causing you pain, it makes sense that crying and negative emotions can follow.

A large number of people with vulvas deal with painful sexual encounters at some point in their lives. Pain can stem from many causes, including inadequate lubrication, skin irritation, and pelvic inflammatory disease. And despite popular misconception, men can also experience painful sex.

Painful sex can often be fixed with appropriate medical treatment. The first step is always talking to your doctor.

Pain can be a purely somatic response to emotional issues, but your doctor needs to rule out physical causes before making this diagnosis. A combination of physician treatment and talk therapy can help address somatic pain.

Neurochemical and Hormonal Fluctuations

Sex and orgasm can sharply increase your body’s levels of certain biochemicals that make you feel good, such as oxytocin. When your body starts returning to a baseline state, those neurotransmitters and hormones decrease again.

It’s been theorized that these dropping levels of “happy” chemicals play a role in the negative emotions of Postcoital Dysphoria. Some scientists suggest low-dose naltrexone may help, but far more research is required. Your medical doctor can provide ice medical advice to help you decide if this is promising path for you.

Postcoital Dysphoria Is Treatable

If you frequently feel the post-sex blues, you don’t need to continue suffering. Treatment isn’t always a quick fix, but it can result in a happier, more fulfilling sex life.

Modern Intimacy has the experience and training to address postcoital dysphoria, whether its causes are simple or complex. Contact us today to talk to a sex therapist and put an end to the post-sex blues.

Modern Intimacy is a group therapy practice, founded by renowned Psychologist and Sex Therapist, Dr. Kate Balestrieri. This inclusive blog is designed to provide a wealth of information and resources for mental health, relationships, and sexuality. Subscribe today to get the latest information from our expert contributors from all around the world.

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Author Bio

Dr. Kate Balestrieri is a Licensed Psychologist, Certified Sex Therapist, Certified Sex Addiction Therapist, and PACT II trained Couples Therapist. She is the Founder of Modern Intimacy. Follow her on IG @drkatebalestrieri and @themodernintimacy.

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