What Is Post-Coital Dysphoria? Here’s What to Know About the Post-Sex Blues.
LET’S SET THE SCENE: You have sex—incredibly pleasurable sex. Your partner does all the things you like in bed. Maybe you have the kind of orgasm that makes you see stars. And afterward, you feel…depressed, sad, anxious, hopeless, inexplicably low, or some combination of these not-so-fun emotions.
Welcome to post-coital dysphoria, also knows as the “post-sex blues.”
What is post-coital dysphoria?
Post-coital dysphoria, or PCD, “refers to feelings of deep sadness or agitation after consensual sex, even if the sexual encounter was loving and pleasurable,” explains Dr. Lee Phillips, a psychotherapist and certified sex and couple’s therapist. (It’s absolutely crucial to point out that PCD only refers to consensual sexual experiences, and not those that resulted from an assault.)
But isn’t good sex supposed to make you feel happy? After all, we always hear about the endorphins and reward chemicals produced by orgasms and other forms of sexual pleasure. Well, it turns out PCD is quite a common occurrence. That’s because sex is a highly emotive experience, and the after-effect of all those brain chemicals doesn’t always result in that post-sex afterglow. Humans are endlessly complex!
How common is post-coital dysphoria?
The post-sex blues are very common. In a 2019 study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, researchers gave an online questionnaire to 1,208 cisgender men. Forty-one percent of the participants reported an episode of postcoital dysphoria in their lifetime.
While post-coital dysphoria can occur for anyone of any gender, the study showed that cis women are 2.87 times more likely to experience it in their lifetime, and were 1.83 times more likely to experience it in the last 4 weeks. A 2015 study published in the journal Sexual Medicine looked at 230 cisgender female, heterosexual university students in Australia, ages 18 to 55. Forty-six percent of the women said they’d experienced PCD in the past. About 5% of study participants reported post-coital dysphoria symptoms in the past month.
While PCD is common, it isn’t wise to ignore it if it’s ongoing and impacting your life in negative ways. We should always endeavor to be introspective when it comes to our sexual wellbeing, and seek help when we need it.
If this is something you or a partner experience, you’re not alone. Understanding post-coital dysphoria is key to finding ways to cope with it.
What are the symptoms of post-coital dysphoria?
The post-sex blues are an emotional crash that can sometimes occur at the end of the sexual response cycle. The common symptoms of post-coital dysphoria are:
- Crying spells
These symptoms can last for a few hours or even a couple of days. Every person’s experience will be different, and will be impacted by the steps they take after experiencing PCD symptoms.
Experiencing PCD can be incredibly jarring, as sadness is not the socially prescribed way to feel after a consensual sexual experience. Sarah Melancon, Ph.D, a sociologist, clinical sexologist, and resident expert at The Sex Toy Collective, explains that PCD can be especially unnerving when the sexual experience was highly pleasant and occurred in the context a satisfying relationship.
What causes the post-sex blues?
OK, so we know PCD means being sad after sex, but what on Earth causes this upsetting situation? Unfortunately, experts are still trying to figure that out. “Researchers are unsure exactly why post-coital dysphoria occurs,” Melancon says.
The condition is thought to result from the high level of emotionality that comes with having sexual experiences. And due to the complexity of our fickle human emotions, the reasons you may experience post-coital dysphoria are also complex. There is a reason the French refer to orgasm as la petite mort, or the little death, after all. It can be very intense.
There may be an element of pair-bonding at play, according to Phillips. “People may experience this condition because the bonding with a partner during sex is so intense that breaking the bond triggers sadness and/or agitation,” she says.
Melancon adds that “sex and orgasm lead to the release of various hormones, which may increase emotionality or bring our emotions to the surface more strongly.” And while this usually leans towards happiness, not everyone experiences the come-down from sex hormones in the same way.
TL;DR: There are a lot of reasons why PCD may happen, but it’s probably rooted in the highly intense experience that is sex.
What are the best ways to treat post-coital dysphoria?
If you’re experiencing post-coital dysphoria, there are many things you can do to help bring yourself back to a state of relaxation.
Sit with the emotions.
When we feel difficult and painful emotions, our gut reaction can be to push them away—but this doesn’t help us in the long run. Instead, Melancon advises that we sit with the feeling of sadness, without judgment, and name it. “When we resist our emotional experiences, it often makes them worse—whatever you resist, persists,” she explains. “Accepting how you feel in the moment, even if it makes no obvious sense, will help you move through your emotions more quickly and easily.”
Talk to your partner.
Good sex and positive sexual experiences are rooted in communication. Phillips suggests having 1-2 check-ins each week with your partner about your sexuality and your feelings around it. Feeling supported is critical to regulating your emotions when PCD hits. “It also prepares your partner as well, so there no any surprises during or after sex,” Phillips adds.
Phillips and Melancon suggest using mindfulness as a way of soothing post-coital dysphoria. “Focusing on your breathing or how your muscles feel as you experience post-coital dysphoria can take some of the ‘sting’ away from difficult emotions, and allow them to move through and release,” Melancon says. Check out our complete guide for a full breakdown on effective mindfulness practices.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. The things that help us return to a state of equilibrium will vary greatly from person to person. It can be helpful to sit down and make a list of all the activities and practices that you find soothing. This will give you a tangible go-to resource, should PCD hit.
When should you seek professional help for post-coital dysphoria?
“If post-coital dysphoria occurs occasionally, [don’t] worry too much about it,” Melancon says. “We all have natural variations in our sexual and emotional experiences.”
However, if post-sex sadness is something that you experience very regularly, or if it persists for many days or weeks, it may be a good time to seek the advice of a therapist (or a sex therapist). Phillips says this is especially true if you have a history of sexual trauma, as these experiences can have lingering psychosomatic effects when they aren’t processed.
If PCD is having a negative impact on your relationship and/or sex life, that’s another reason to seek help. “Many couples struggle to communicate about sex in general, let alone when an issue pops up,“ she says. “Some partners may take it personally, even though it is not their fault.” Having someone there to help you work through these issues can be a positive step towards healing.
Post-coital dysphoria is a very common phenomenon and speaks to the intricacies of human sexuality. Highly variant emotional states shouldn’t be seen as outliers, but rather something to be expected. The important thing is to take the time and space you need to recover from PCD.
You’re not broken. You’re not alone. You’re going to get through this.
Gigi Engle is a writer, certified sexologist, sex coach, and sex educator. Her work regularly appears in many publications including Brides, Marie Claire, Elle Magazine, Teen Vogue, Glamour and Women’s Health.