We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous. Now, onto this week’s topic: reasons why crying during sex happens — and what it might mean.
Q: “I like it when my partner dominates me sometimes, but I find that as he does it sometimes, I'll start crying. That freaks him out, and makes him feel like he's being mean, so he doesn't dominate me as often as I'd like. I'm not sure why I start crying — I just feel a lot in the moment, and it's like it brings something up I didn't know is there. Why do people sometimes cry during sex and does it mean you should stop doing something?”
A: Thanks for the question. Breaking into tears can sure seem intense in the moment. Sometimes those tears are a sign of it all being too much, but sometimes tears can be harmless, or even good! Here are 10 possible explanations of tears during sex, as well as some ideas for what to do in the moment if you start to cry.
1. You’re Roleplaying
"Power play [...] involves one person taking control (consensually) in a sexual situation while the other partner is submissive to, or acted upon, by them," Carol Queen, PhD, Good Vibrations staff sexologist and author of The Sex & Pleasure Book: Good Vibrations Guide To Great Sex For Everyone, tells Bustle. Being under someone else’s control can feel sexy, arousing, thrilling — and/or unsafe and overwhelming! Whether or not we have had traumatic experiences, all of us have been kids, and have felt under the control of others at least sometimes. [...] So in some power play contexts, those old feelings are accessed. Also, sometimes people will be engaged in roleplay, which may really take you into often-unvisited corners of your own psyche."
Being dominated can sometimes include begging your partner to do something, pleading with them not to do something, pretending you need to be punished, or taking your punishment. Tears can be a very normal part of the game, and can happen organically in the middle of things. If you feel fine emotionally, or if it feels like you’re “in character” while you’re crying, you probably don’t have anything to worry about. Just let your partner know that the crying doesn't mean you are hurt or that something is wrong.
2. You’re Happy
Plenty of people cry happy tears during or after sex. You might feel grateful that you feel safe enough with your partner to explore power play. You might feel relieved that you’re giving yourself permission to go to places that you may have not considered going to before. Or you might simply feel a lot of love for your partner in that moment. If that’s the case, let yourself cry, and don't be ashamed of it! Explain to your partner that they’re good tears, and they're nothing to be worried about. If your partner has a hard time believing you in the moment it might help them to hear you explain it after the fact.
3. You’re In Pain
It’s possible to experience pain during sex in a number of different contexts. If you’re engaging in BDSM with your partner, you may feel pain from the restraints, a ball gag, or a whip. Your body might be contorted into positions that are uncomfortable. A lot of people who play with BDSM make the distinction between “good pain” and “bad pain;” good pain feels pleasurable, whereas bad pain doesn’t.
There are also sexual pain conditions like vulvodynia and dyspareunia, which cause people with vulvas to experience pain in their vulvas of vaginal canals. If you’re in physical pain, I highly recommend that you stop and check in with your partner. Loosen your restraints, ask your partner to go lighter on the paddle. Make sure you have a safe word so your partner knows when they're going too far. If the pain is specifically in your vulva or vagina, and persists, go check in with your OB/GYN.
4. You’re Confused
Power play can bring up conflicting emotions for many people. On the one hand, you’re agreeing to the specific activities you’re engaging in with your partner, and you’re — hopefully — doing them in a safe and responsible way. On the other hand, some of the specific acts themselves can feel degrading, even though you understand the context.
For example, let’s say your partner slaps you across the face. Let’s imagine you talked about it beforehand, you were on board with trying it, you had a safe word in place, and you practiced appropriate levels of force. Everything was done properly, but at the end of the day, you’re still being slapped in the face. Your tears may be a sign that you feel jarred, confused, or conflicted. Take a break from the power play if this happens, then come back to it at a later date and have a conversation about your boundaries.
5. You’re Ashamed
Similarly, power play can sometimes bring up internalized feelings of shame — which you may not know you had. Again, all of the same things that I just mentioned above may be true — you may be doing everything right, with a trustworthy partner. But being submissive, being called names, or being punished can bring up feelings of shame, even if it's something you want. Sometimes power play can be cathartic because it helps us access and move through the shame that resides within all of us. But sometimes it might feel like too much. It’s up to you to find the line and let your partner know where that line is. The questions to ask yourself that I'll mention at the end of this article should help.
6. You’re Afraid
Another similar experience is being afraid in the moment. Even when done properly, power play can still be a scary thing. You may be restrained or physically hurt. Like with pain, there’s a differentiation between “good fear” and “bad fear." Good fear can be like the anxiety you get on an amusement park ride, or the thrill of watching a movie you know is going to scare the pants off of you. Like with shame, you have to question yourself and find the line that feels right for you. Explore this with your partner, and let them know what your boundaries are.
7. You’re Being Teased
When you and your partner power play, does your partner prevent you from experiencing pleasure or having an orgasm? Deprival can be a part of the game in a lot of role play situations. Sometimes you might get so hot and bothered, and so frustrated by the lack of release, that you actually start to cry. If it feels like your body is screaming for attention in the moments before you start crying, this explanation is probably the culprit. Let your partner know if the frustration is too much and you want to stop.
8. You’re Triggered
Sometimes sex can trigger past experiences of abuse. "A person who’s been abused or survived painful/problematic/non-consensual sexual experiences often holds trauma and emotion in their body after such an experience," Queen says. "Being naked, being touched, getting aroused and particular kinds of sexual touch can connect a person more directly to this; it can be harder to put on the shelf or out of their mind, and even if they are not having memories of their specific situation, they may find emotion takes over anyway. This might not include crying — but it certainly can."
There are obvious elements of power during sexual assault, since another person physically and emotionally overpowered you and your boundaries. Some people believe that power play can be cathartic for sexual abuse survivors, but it’s very easy to slip into feeling triggered. If you feel like your body is starting to dissociate from your brain, if you have memories of the abuse, or if you start feeling out of control, please stop what you’re doing in the moment.
"Noticing what the trigger is can be important — it can help in asking the partner to stop something specific, or ask them to do something that will change the focus and distract away from the triggering incident," Queen says. "Even if a person hasn’t told their partner what happened to them and doesn’t intend to, they can still let them know in advance of sex that sometimes they get triggered and may need to ask for this change of focus. A partner’s ability to take this seriously and go with it is important."
And if you don't know what triggered you, at a later date, think about whether or not these types of sexual activities feel safe to you. If you're not sure what's being triggered, talk to a professional and try to communicate with your partner in the moment.
9. You’re Overwhelmed
Sometimes we cry because there’s just so much going on in one moment. This can be a good or bad thing. You might feel overwhelmed because you’re pushing yourself to the limits of your boundaries, and you’re starting to feel unsafe or nervous. Or you might feel overwhelmed by love, pleasure, or joy. You might just need a moment to sort out what you’re feeling. If this is the case, just let your partner know. There's nothing wrong with taking a moment to reflect on what you want, and get back into things when it feels right.
10. It’s Just Biology
When you’re having sex, your body can release oxytocin (euphemistically referred to as the “cuddle hormone”), which can make your emotions feel even more intense. Your tears may simply be the result of biology — this is one of the reasons you might especially feel an urge to cry after orgasm. If this is the case, there's nothing to be ashamed of. You're likely just feeling so good in the moment, you're shedding a tear or two.
What To Do If You Start Crying During Sex
First, ask your partner to stop and give you a minute to sort out your feelings. Take a few slow, deep breaths. Then ask yourself this series of questions:
- “What am I feeling right now?”
- “What do these tears mean?”
- “What do I need right now?”
If your answers all seem relatively benign, like, “I’m just feeling so much love for my partner,” or if it’s just a few tears, then it’s probably fine to continue. If you’re crying hard, if you don’t know the answers to these questions, or if you feel confused trying to sort it out, it might be best to call time out or stop completely. You don’t want to push yourself to keep having sex if you’re having a strong emotional reaction that you don’t understand. The next day, take some time to review the experience and see if there’s anything you can learn from it.
Carol Queen, PhD, Good Vibrations staff sexologist
This article was originally published on