What Causes Post-Coital Dysphoria? The Possible Reasons You May Be Feeling Sad After Sex
Sex is meant to be a fun, even joyful experience, but for some people the whole process can be a lot more conflicting. While we hear a lot about the post-sex glow that you can feel, there's another post-sex phenomena that is a lot darker and more difficult. Post-Coital Dysphoria, also known as Post-Coital Tristesse, PCD, or "the post-sex blues" usually manifests as sadness, anxiety, and unease — and it can affect you directly after sex or up to two hours afterward.
But, if you have feelings of sadness after — or during — sex, it's important to know that that you're not alone. "It's important to let that sadness flow, giving the body space and time to release what it needs to release," Irene Fehr, sex and intimacy coach, tells Bustle. "Both the person experiencing this and their partner might find it confusing at first, so it's important to understand that it's normal and to assure yourself and your partner that nothing is wrong or needs to be done. The most comforting thing could be to be accepting of the situation and to treat yourself and your partner with compassion and gentleness. If this is a somewhat regular thing, it's helpful to ask your partner ahead of time what you need during the release — whether it's to be held in a certain way, to be talked to, or something else. It's also important to let your partner know that they've done nothing wrong and that it's not anything to be scared about."
But PCD has long been thought to affect predominately women. In one study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, Dr. Robert Schweitzer and colleagues looked at 230 female university students and found that 46 percent of those surveyed had experienced PCD at least once, while five percent had experienced it multiple times in the past month.
But recently, Schweitzer and his team looked into how PCD affects men. The researchers surveyed 1,200 men and found that 46 percent of them had experienced PCD at one point or another — which is only five percent fewer than the number of women affected. But with so many people being affected by PCD at one point or another, what causes it?
There's not one straightforward answer, but there are some potential possibilities.
It Can Be A Hormonal Shift
Although there's not one set cause of PCD, it may be due to a hormonal shift. During sex, we have higher levels of dopamine than average and, to combat this, the body releases the hormone prolactin after sex. But Tufts University points out that this sudden drop in dopamine may be be linked to PCD.
Socialization May Be An Issue
It's a sad truth that many of us don't grow up in sex-positive environments — and many of us are brought up being taught that sex is shameful. Whether you're brought up in a religion that discourages sexual activity or you're just raised to think that people who have sex are "dirty" or "slutty", you can internalize these sentiments — even if you don't believe them.
"Once that passion and trance-like state subside and you come back to full composure, you might experience shame or regret for what had happened," Fehr says. "That vulnerability and freedom that felt good in the moment might now feel like it was too much — like a hangover, and shame rushes in, so the resulting response is to shut down, pull away from partner, feel down on yourself, or experience an overwhelming rush of sadness."
It can be difficult to shake certain societal views toward sex — and they can have a devastating effect.
Some People Find Sex Triggering
If you're a survivor of sexual assault or other traumatic events connected to sex, that can cause PCD. If your sexual history is traumatic, that can affect you even during healthy sexual encounters. It may be because you haven't come to terms with your own feelings towards sex after the incident.
"A vulnerability hangover is most often triggered by going too fast or doing too much for what the psyche or body can handle, which, when mixed with superimposed shame, creates a severe withdrawal and sadness," Fehr says. "It is often exacerbated by a cocktail of consciousness-altering substances such as alcohol or drugs that relax and allow the drop of inhibitions, enable going faster than might be comfortable, and make crossing boundaries that would otherwise hold in a conscious state possible." But even if you're stone-cold sober, if you've been abused or assaulted sex can be triggering — and that is never your fault. You may just want to take a step back and get the help you need to protect yourself from those feelings coming up again in the future.
But Communication Matters
Sometimes the period after sex is warm and loving, but sometimes it's awkward or even kind of terrible. According to Medical Daily, negative communication after sex — either around the sexual experience not being fulfilling or one partner being disappointed that the sex hasn't turned into an emotional connection, could be to blame. Many of us know that low and hollow feeling you can have when you feel vulnerable after a sexual encounter, so that negative attitude toward might be one of the causes of PCD.
"Post-coital blues can very situational, relating to the quality of that particular act of sex," Fehr says. "It can result from feeling empty and unsatisfied or unfulfilled by the act. It can come from a feeling of resentment from not being seen and met by your partner or that you matter to them. It can result from the act feeling empty and devoid of connection."
If the sex and the communication afterward don't feel safe or fulfilling, it's totally understandable that you would feel blue. Pay attention to that feeling and try to work out where it comes from, so you can avoid it in the future. "Here sadness is a normal response to a situation that did not fulfill or felt 'right'," Fehr says. "Sadness serves to remind us of what matters to us, what gives us meaning — and it should not be ignored. It's your body waving a red flag to you to pay attention. Take it seriously and look at what's important and what's missing in your sex life that would bring you fulfillment — and take action to change it."
There's no definite cause of PCD, but there are a lot of different factors, both chemical and social, that can affect how we feel after sex. If you do struggle with PCD, be sure to be generous with your self-care — and know that you're not alone.