So a friend of mine recently came to me and asked me about a sex related issue – which of course isn’t always easy for a guy to approach another guy about. It wasn’t quite what you might expect though, he asked me – “do you ever feel depressed after sex?” From personal experience I couldn’t really say for certain, but I realised very quickly just how serious he was about the question he had posed. He went on to explain further and described how immediately after sex he would often feel depressed and emotional and pretty much like he wanted the ground to swallow him up. Not the feelings you would typically associate with regular, consensual sex.
As it turns out, he is not alone. Yes, Post-coital dysphoria or Post-coital tristesse as it turns out is a very common condition. To be more specific these are the terms used to describe feelings of sadness, anxiety, agitation and aggression immediately after consensual sex. Upon further reading, I noticed consistent references to feeling ‘teary’ and when relaying this back to my friend this was the one word he really honed in on. “TEARY, that’s it! I feel like I just want to burst into tears and I have no idea why. It’s embarrassing, how on earth do you explain to your partner why your eyes are filling up immediately after having sex with them?” I really did sympathise at this point, this was clearly a more serious issue than I had ever realised – in fact I didn’t even know the condition existed.
Was this a mental health issue? Was it biological? I really couldn’t say, and I suppose these things become all the more frustrating because you have absolutely no logical explanation for the way you feel. Denise Knowles, sex therapist and counsellor at relationships charity Relate did however try to offer more insight into the condition, she told The Independent: “It’s not uncommon to feel sad after sex. It’s not necessarily due to a trauma or because they’re regretful and it doesn’t have to mean anything sinister is going on.”
“Having sex is a hugely intimate act and an orgasm releases lots of wonderful feel-good bonding hormones. Those hormones drop following the peak of an orgasm, and as you separate from the closeness that brought it about, a sense of sadness can follow.”
“You go from absolute joy and pleasure to being separated. That in its own way can cause women, and some men, to feel a bit sad.”
However, in doing a little bit of my own research I found another, simpler explanation. I spoke this time with a female friend who started to tell me a few stories about a relationship with an ex-boyfriend. She told me of how they had always enjoyed a very normal relationship but that a few years down the line she had realised he simply wasn’t ‘the one’ and sooner or later would have to end things. It would actually be another full year before she did end it! During that time she continued to have sex with her boyfriend in the very normal way that they always had, only she no longer initiated it. Because of her longing to get out of the relationship, every time they had sex she felt not only like she was leading him on, but like she was almost selling her soul a little bit. The sex was of course consensual, but she didn’t want to do it. As a result, every time they had sex she would fall into a deep sense of depression and regret and more often than not felt like she had let herself down. As complicated as that may sound, I think this situation may be even more common than Knowles’ hormonal explanation above. Perhaps sometimes there is a more ‘standard’ happiness related explanation to these kinds of feelings?
Of course that’s not to take away from the feelings of my male friend, who assures me he is blissfully happy in his relationship. I guess these things are never quite straight forward and relationships can of course be complicated enough without experiencing problems during what should be happy, intimate moments. I did a little online search for more advice on this subject but there seems to be a distinct lack of resources out there. I did however find this little article from Cosmopolitan where four people describe their experiences with the condition, if you or anyone you know is suffering with post-coital dysphoria you may find it helpful.
It seems this issue is prominent in both men and women, but the most important thing of all is that you do something to address and open up about these issues, to a therapist, a friend, your partner or even me! Apparently I’m a good listener.