If you've ever had sex, odds are that you've felt pretty good afterwards: Sex frequently creates a lingering feeling of contentment, often referred to as “afterglow” effect. In fact, research has found that these positive feelings can persist for up to two full days.
Not everyone’s post-sex experiences, however, are quite so rosy. Some people experience a range of negative emotions, including tearfulness, sadness, and irritability. This occurs inexplicably following what is otherwise consensual and satisfying sex. This phenomenon, known as postcoital dysmorphia, has increasingly been discussed by researchers and therapists over the last decade.
Research has found that nearly half of women report having experienced it at least once before. In addition, as many as ten percent say they’ve experienced it in the past month, while two percent say it’s something that happens to them regularly. Women who experience postcoital dysphoria tend to have more psychological distress and sexual dysfunctions; in addition, they are statistically more likely to have been sexually victimized.
It has long been thought that men experience postcoital dysphoria, too; but until now, no research has examined this phenomenon in men. A new study finds that not only does postcoital dysphoria exist in men, but men might even be more likely to experience it recurrently than women.
In the study, 1,208 men completed an online survey about their post-sex experiences. Participants came from all over the world, they ranged in age from 18-81 (the average age was 37), and the vast majority (84 percent) said they were currently involved in some type of sexual relationship.
To determine whether participants had experienced postcoital dysphoria, they were asked whether they had “experienced inexplicable tearfulness, sadness, or irritability following consensual sexual activity” at any point in their lives, as well as during the past four weeks specifically. They were also asked questions about both previous and current psychological distress, past experiences with sexual abuse, as well as any current sexual problems they were facing.
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It turned out that 41 percent of men reported having experienced postcoital dysphoria at some point before. This is in line with previous studies finding that 46 percent of women have experienced it, too.
When it came to recent experiences with postcoital dysphoria, 20 percent of men said it happened to them in the past month. Moreover, nearly 4.5 percent of men said they had experienced it most or all of the times they’ve had sex for their entire lives. When compared to the aforementioned numbers among women, these findings suggest that men may be more likely to have both recent and recurrent experiences with postcoital dysphoria.
Consistent with previous research on women, men were more likely to report postcoital dysphoria to the extent that they had elevated levels of recent psychological distress, current sexual difficulties (especially problems related to low desire and orgasm), as well as a history of child sexual abuse. Gay men reported more frequent experiences with postcoital dysphoria than heterosexual men.
It’s important to note that this study wasn’t based on a representative sample of men; therefore, we can’t say with certainty what the prevalence of postcoital dysphoria is among guys or draw firm conclusions about how it compares to women. What these findings do tell us, though, is that postcoital dysphoria is indeed real and it seems to affect a lot of guys.
More research is needed to understand the potential causes of postcoital dysphoria; however, this study suggests that one contributing factor is likely to be our current psychological state, which may dictate the emotional response we’re likely to have following sex. Experiencing sexual abuse in childhood may also impact how we experience sex later in life, but it’s important to note that the association observed in this study was very small. Child sexual abuse may therefore play some role in postcoital dysphoria, but it really doesn’t seem to be the driving factor.
The authors of this study suggest that because postcoital dysphoria is something that most guys will experience only infrequently—if it happens to them at all, and “it may therefore represent normal variation within the human experience of the resolution phase.” In other words, it’s not something that should be pathologized and, in most cases, probably isn’t a source of concern—it’s really only likely to represent a problem when it occurs frequently and becomes a source of major distress or contributes to relationship problems.
More than anything, the results of this research add to a growing body of literature suggesting that men’s experiences with sex and orgasm are far more diverse and complex than previously assumed. Justin Lehmiller, PhD, is a research fellow at The Kinsey Institute and author of the blog Sex and Psychology. His latest book is Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life. Follow him on Twitter @JustinLehmiller.
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