What goes in must come out. What goes up must come down. And after a dude ejaculates, he sometimes feel really, really sad. Philosophers and scientists have long had a few theories as to why men get these feelings, but now psychology professor Robert Schweitzer of Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, is conducting a survey to build on anecdotal evidence of the phenomenon to find out why.
In a statement about the survey, Schweitzer said his goal is to create a scale of post-coital experience in hetero and homosexual men and women in what he calls the “recovery phase” of sex. In lay terms (heh), that’s right after you do it, when you’re (usually) lying there dazed, floating on a cloud of lazy delight. For most people, that moment makes the short list of the best experiences a human can have on earth — a blissed-out euphoria that feels relaxing and serene. But for other people, not so much. Just after sex, they are more inclined to describe their state as involving “melancholy, tearfulness, anxiety, irritability or restlessness,” Schweitzer notes.
But why? “If we can better understand what is happening in the bedroom and the prevalence of post-sex blues, we can start looking at causes and possible solutions,” Schweitzer said.
The phenomenon isn’t new, nor is the effort to understand why it happens. Back in 2014, Vice charted historical awareness of post-coital dysphoria, also called post-coital tristesse, and found that it was initially thought of as something that only happened to men (there’s a reason the French call the male orgasm “la petite mort,” or “the little death”). PCD first showed up around 150 AD, when the Greek physician Galen declared that post-sex sadness happened to every animal except “the human female and the rooster.” Spinoza, Aristotle and Nietzsche, they write, thought it only natural that the loss of the “life force” that happens with the orgasm would coincide with melancholy. Vice spoke to a psychiatrist in London, Anthony Stone, who said it was the natural down cycle after the upswing of seduction.
“Post-sex, men can feel powerless, a spent force; they’ve lost the ability to impregnate,” Stone told them. “In some cases, this can feel like depression or a desire to die — sometimes like ‘maleness’ has been lost.”
In 2009, psychiatrist Richard Friedman tested his theory that the post-sex blues was just the amygdala, which normally masks fear and anxiety during sex, creating a temporary depression when the levels return to normal after the deed. He proved this by giving participants antidepressants, known to lower libido, expecting that with lowered sex drive, and therefore less thrilling sex, they would report the post-orgasm bleh experience as less frequent or intense, too. He was right.
But you don’t have to be able to knock somebody up to get the post-sex blues. There aren’t studies about how frequent it is in men, but a study in 2015 found 46 percent of women had experienced it — two percent every time they had sex. An earlier study from 2011 found that about a third of women reported the experience, with some 10 percent saying they experience sadness after sex regularly.
For women, the reasons are usually attributed to a few things: Hormonal shifts, fear of abandonment, lack of orgasm, history of sexual trauma, being unhappy with the relationship, guilty/sad after risky, unprotected or ill-advised casual sex, being already prone to depression, or the sense that something — you, your partner, the relationship, being alive on earth — is just not quite right. Worth noting, though: Many women who experienced it still did so even after what they described as otherwise “satisfactory” sex.
Though men may be less inclined to cop to a case of the sads after boning, when we polled a few of them anonymously about their reasons for feeling this way, their responses were not dissimilar from women’s. They offered these reasons:
- The realization of assigning dramatically different emotional weight to sex than your partner (You care, she doesn’t; she cares, you don’t)
- Regrettable one-night stand
- Sobered up
- Evangelical upbringing that produces shame feeling
- When you know the relationship you’re in is damaging or bad
While nobody wishes bad feelings on anyone after sex, at least this means men and women are both just as capable of being bummed out after doing a supposedly fun thing—after all, there’s scarcely a faster shortcut to maximum vulnerability than getting naked with someone and swapping fluids. That may not make any of us feel any better in the moment, but it could at least make those of us who do feel a little bit less alone.