Sometimes the best part of sex is after sex, when you get to lie around in a post-coital haze (after you pee for UTI-prevention purposes, obviously) and soak up all the just-got-laid vibes—unless sex leaves you feeling absolutely miserable, that is. Have you ever felt random sadness, irritability, or anxiety after an otherwise pleasant sexperience? Maybe the sex was good and you felt fine at first, but then afterward you noticed an overwhelming change in mood. Then, before you knew it, your emotions fully took over to the point where you started crying or froze up completely.
If any of this sounds familiar, then you may have experienced post-coital dysphoria, commonly referred to as “post-sex blues.” And don’t worry babe, you’re very much not alone.
Post-coital dysphoria (sometimes abbreviated PCD) is relatively common, and while we gals may have the monopoly on crying both in and out of bed, it’s not nearly as gender-specific as you might think. According to a 2015 study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 46 percent of the 233 female students surveyed experienced PCD at least once, and a 2019 study found that 41 percent of male students surveyed had experienced it at some point in their lifetime.
“Post-coital dysphoria is when a person experiences feelings of sadness, depression, anxiety or agitation after consensual sex—even if that sex was loving, satisfying, or enjoyable,” says Wendasha Jenkins Hall, PhD, aka “The Sensible Sexpert.”
It can obviously be pretty disorienting and/or downright scary to get hit with a sudden wave of negative feelings out of nowhere, especially after you’ve just enjoyed a trip to bonetown and would much rather be cuddling with your partner in a state of post-orgasmic bliss. Luckily, if you are someone who experiences the post-sex blues, there are ways to deal. Here’s everything you need to know about post-coital dysphoria, including why it happens and how to keep it from killing your post-sex vibe.
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What causes post-coital dysphoria?
Research on what causes post-coital dysphoria is somewhat limited, and it’s not exactly a condition where one size (or reason, rather) fits all. That said, experts do have a few theories on what causes the post-sex blues.
For some, post-coital dysphoria may be linked to other mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression, says Hall, adding that hormonal shifts, particularly after pregnancy, might also be a contributing factor. “The hormonal fluctuations that a pregnant person may experience postpartum or postnatal may cause these feelings of post-coital dysphoria,” she says.
According to Hall, it’s also thought that a history of abuse, “especially childhood sexual abuse,” might be related to some people’s experience of PCD.
“Another reason may be resentment,” she adds. “If a person has a history of emotional, psychological or physical abuse, then they may be more resentful about sex or sexual experiences, especially if they feel they don’t have complete control over these experiences.”
Whatever might be causing your own experience of post-coital dysphoria will depend on your own individual circumstances, obvs. It might be something you can figure out with a therapist, or you might literally just not know what exactly is behind your post-sex blues. Fortunately, no matter what’s causing it, there are ways to cope with PCD when it happens.
What are some techniques to cope with post-coital dysphoria?
An attack of bad vibes after sex can feel random and all consuming, but self-care practices like breathing exercises and meditation might help you deal if you find yourself experiencing negative feelings post-sex.
“I can’t emphasize enough the importance of breath work for any somatic condition such as post-coital dysphoria,” says James Humecky, somatic educator and certified surrogate partner therapist. “Breath brings us back to our bodies. Breath brings awareness. Awareness brings relief.”
If you feel the blues coming on after sex, Humecky suggests following these steps:
- Connect to your body by getting comfortable and distraction-free.
- Practice diaphragmatic breathing (five seconds inhale, five seconds exhale).
- Pay attention to what’s happening within your body at that moment.
- Recognize what kind of sensations you’re feeling.
- Ask yourself what you need at that exact moment.
Humecky also encourages letting yourself get curious about sensations. Are there any images or colors you can associate with what’s happening on the inside? What adjectives could you use to describe your feelings?
“By welcoming the sensation in, we break the cycle of fear and confusion that surrounds it,” he continues.
Hall adds that self-management techniques for PCD may also look like drawing, taking a warm bath, having your partner bring you your favorite food, or just giving yourself space to clear your head.
How to talk about post-coital dysphoria with your partner
It’s only natural to shut down when you’re dealing with something as difficult and confusing as post-coital dysphoria, but it’s super important to know that you don’t have to go through it alone. Opening up to your partner about what you’re experiencing can actually be extremely helpful in beating the post-sex blues.
“Partnership will yield the most satisfactory and long-lasting results,” Humecky says, adding that while some people may worry their partner will take their PCD personally, honest communication is crucial. Opening up to your partner about what you’re going through is a chance to get closer, and to help you both better understand the (occasionally confusing!) connection between the mind and the body during sex.
Hall recommends explaining to your partner that it isn’t necessarily the sex itself that is causing anxiety, sadness, and depression. It’s possible to genuinely feel pleasured and physically satisfied during sex, yet notice a sudden influx of distressing emotions after sex, all of which may not have anything to do with your relationship or the quality of the sex you’re having.
When to seek professional help
Self-care, post-sex rituals, and self-management techniques can be helpful, but there are times when even those methods aren’t enough. If you find that PCD cannot be managed with deep breathing, meditation, and other self-care practices, or if it’s harming the overall quality of your relationship, then it could be time to seek help from a professional.
“It is important to see a therapist, mental health specialist, or counselor, as what is causing the post-coital dysphoria can be deep-rooted issues, from sexual trauma to general stress and anxiety,” says Hall. “When seeing a counselor, it should not necessarily be about the sex. It should be about the feelings that one is having after sex.”
As with any mental health journey, it’s important not to hold yourself to any specific timeline when navigating PCD, whether you’re doing it on your own or with the help of a professional. It may take a long time to get to the root of your feelings and figure out how to manage them, and that’s okay.
Feeling sad for no reason is obviously not a vibe, especially after sex. But working through post-coital dysphoria is an opportunity to learn more about yourself, and to better understand the (sometimes annoyingly!) complex relationship between your mind, body, and ~feels~. If you’re dealing with a case of the post-sex blues, know that you’re not alone, it is manageable, and you don’t have to let this random attack of bad vibes ruin your sex life. With a little self-care and/or professional help, you can get back to laying around in your regularly scheduled post-sex bliss, promise.