Do you ever feel let down after sex? You are not alone. However, psychologists have only recently started studying and exploring this anomaly. The issue is termed “post-coital tristesse” or post-coital blues, and some publications claim that over 10% of the population suffers from the problem. As it turns out, the number may actually be even higher.
There are distinct hormonal changes during orgasm and immediately following it. Dopamine levels in the brain sharply decrease after sex, which can lead to feelings of sadness or depression. The reason that some people experience post-coital blues more than others is not always due to a psychological sexual trauma—levels of neurotransmitters in the brain simply function slightly differently in people. If dopamine levels are already relatively low in a person’s brain, then a sharp decrease may affect the individual more than a person with stable levels of the hormone.
Walter Last, author of “The Neurochemistry of Sex” explains: “The main players are dopamine, the reward hormone; prolactin, the hormone of satiation; oxytocin, the cuddle hormone, and levels of androgen receptors, which all powerfully affect our mood, our desire for intimacy, our perception of our mate, as well as our susceptibility to addictive activities and substances.” His study is particularly interesting, because it shows that personality traits like the need for comfort or cuddling may just be caused by certain hormone levels. Consequently, learning about your stable hormone levels (when not engaged in intercourse) may help you to better understand your physical and mental needs.
Men vs. Women
Men and women can handle post-coital blues extremely differently. According to NBC News, many men feel an urge to flee, which somehow makes them feel less sad. Others may wish to flee, but choose to stay. Staying does not help their feelings of sadness, and may actually cause the man to connect the feelings of sadness with sex.
Women who experience this kind of sadness may feel better after reassurance from their partner. While men who experience post-coital blues want to flee, women typically want and need just the opposite and will feel better spending time with the person after sex. This can include a need for more contact, such as further cuddling.
When a couple is comprised of a man and woman who experience post-coital blues, this can spell disaster. If a man flees the scene and the woman is left alone, feelings of much more than sadness begin to emerge. This separation can also lead to feelings of resentment in the other person, as well as to even more negative feelings directed toward sex.
Abstinence and Other Signs of Avoidance
Many people avoid sex altogether, as this means also avoiding the indescribable sadness that follows in its wake. However, those who suffer from post-coital blues may experience the symptoms by themselves (e.g. through dreams) as often as they would if they were with a partner.
Abstinence may seem like a logical solution to the challenge of post-coital blues, but this approach can easily lead to other challenges. Abstinence can trigger feelings of loneliness, increased depression, and even lower self-esteem. However, some people feel rejuvenated through abstinence, as it provides a sense of control. If you experience post-coital blues, then a short period of abstinence may be beneficial only while you try to figure out how to avoid feelings of sadness after sex.
If hormone changes are inevitable, can there be real solutions to this problem? The answer is yes, but these solutions are relatively new. For example, some doctors may prescribe a mild antidepressant in order to stabilize hormones more effectively. While this may sound like a great idea, many antidepressants also lead to a significant decrease in sex drive. Consequently, this solution may be better if you are not currently having regular sex.
Communication with your partner provides a simple solution to the problem. Perhaps your partner does not know you experience feelings of sadness after sex, and so may not be able to anticipate your needs. You may need them to stick around or hold you longer after sex, so be sure to communicate these feelings. A simple five-minute cuddle session could completely relieve any feelings of anxiety.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the Gestalt Institute of therapy believes in finding the root cause of life issues. In this case, the Institute would likely recommend therapy to discover if there is a past trauma or event that may be causing the post-coital blues. Since many people associate sex with complex and negative emotions, it may well be worth discovering when this began so that you can better enjoy your present.
Alexander, Brian. NBC News. Even Great Sex Can End in Post-Coital Blues. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/22875051/ns/health-sexual_health/t/even-great-sex-can-end-post-coital-blues/#.VXhr2s93nIU.
Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. Approach to Learning. http://www.gestaltcleveland.org/approach-to-learning.php.
Last, Walter. Health Science Spirit. The Neurochemistry of Sex. http://www.health-science-spirit.com/neurosex.html.