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Sad After Sex? New Study Suggests ‘Postcoital Dysphoria’ Is Widespread

A new study finds that 46 percent of women reported experiencing symptoms of postcoital dysphoria, or PCD, at least once in their lifetime, with 5.1 percent experiencing symptoms of the condition a few times within the past four weeks. (Peter Kelly/Flickr)

A new study finds that 46 percent of women reported experiencing symptoms of postcoital dysphoria, or PCD, at least once in their lifetime, with 5.1 percent experiencing symptoms of the condition a few times within the past four weeks. (Peter Kelly/Flickr)

For Kim, a 30-year-old teacher in North Carolina, it happens pretty much every time she has an orgasm: a feeling of profound sadness washes over her and she experiences a sense of regret. “It’s not that I don’t like sex,” she said in an interview. “I enjoy sex, I like to have orgasms, but after an orgasm, I feel this wave of sadness. It only lasts around a minute, but I’m just like, ‘Ugh, that doesn’t feel good.’ ”

For Kim’s sister, Rachel, 27, it’s even worse. She says that since she was a young adolescent, around 12 or 13, after an orgasm darkness and despair descends on her for 10 to 15 minutes. “It’s just really sad,” she said. “Almost like a feeling of homesickness, but I’m home. It happens every single time.”

Kim and Rachel (both happily married, they say, and both asking that their last names be omitted) had shared their intimate distress in the past — the topic came up when they both had a similar sadness breast-feeding their babies; a condition, they discovered, that’s known as dysphoric milk ejection reflex, or D-MER. But they didn’t fully realize their post sex sadness was “a thing” until they came across a Facebook post about a new study that called it by its official name: postcoital dysphoria, or PCD.

Also called “postcoital tristesse,” literally “sadness” in French, it’s a condition marked by feelings of melancholy, agitation, anxiety or sadness after intercourse that can last between five minutes and two hours. Sometimes there are tears.

If you look it up on Wikipedia you’ll learn “the phenomenon is traced to the Greek doctor Galen, who wrote, ‘Every animal is sad after coitus except the human female and the rooster.’ ”

Not true, according to the new study, published in the journal Sexual Medicine and led by researchers in Australia. They found that 46 percent of women reported experiencing PCD symptoms at least once in their lifetime with 5.1 percent experiencing symptoms of the condition a few times within the past four weeks.

There are big caveats. Data for the study were collected through an online questionnaire; female students over 18 who reported being sexually active were recruited via email at Australian universities and through Facebook. Ultimately, the total sample included 195 heterosexual, mostly white women, the study notes, and so the results can’t necessarily be generalized to the broader population. (Earlier estimates of the condition vary.)

“We go through life with our defenses up, and after sex, with that release, sometimes the feelings just flood in.”

– Psychologist and sex therapist Judy Silverstein

There are a number of theories on what’s behind PCD, and clearly more research is needed. Some say it’s hormones, others suggest the intense emotional release after sex let’s loose other deep emotions. Past sexual abuse may play a role in some cases, but this particular study suggests it’s not the main driver.

Judy Silverstein, a psychologist and sex therapist in Needham, Massachusetts, says she’s worked with many women who have tears or sadness after sex. She said she believes that biology, in addition to psychology, could be a factor.

“When orgasm occurs … there is a physiological release — after a buildup of sexual tension — which may lead to tears (or laughter) not accounted for by psychological variables,” she said. Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: It May Make Bullied Adolescents Feel Less Suicidal

How much better can exercise make you feel?

A new study suggests that the mood boost may be profound.

The nitty gritty of the study is that researchers at the University of Vermont report a 23 percent reduction in both suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts among bullied students who exercise four or more days a week. The analysis of national data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that across the board, frequent exercise was associated with improved mood for adolescents, both bullied and not.

It’s important to note that the study shows an association only between exercise and improved mental health. Still, lead author Jeremy Sibold, an associate professor at the University of Vermont, and chairman of its Department of Rehabilitation and Movement Science, says this is an important first step. It…”shows a critical relationship between exercise and mental health in bullied adolescents,” he says. “These data do not prove that exercise will reduce sadness or suicidality, but certainly support more research in this area.”

(Nick Tonkin/Flickr)

(Nick Tonkin/Flickr)

The study, published online in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, concludes:

Physical activity is inversely related to sadness and suicidality in adolescents, highlighting the relationship between physical activity and mental health in children, and potentially implicating physical activity as a salient option in the response to bullying in schools.

An accompanying editorial, by Dr. Bradley D. Stein and Tamara Dubowitz of The Rand Corporation in Pittsburgh, says,

“…the evolving literature suggests that physical activity interventions appear to be potentially promising as preventive interventions for some children and adolescents at risk for developing mental health disorders and for augmenting more traditional interventions for children and adolescents being treated for depressive and anxiety disorders and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

The “side effects” of such physical activity interventions are likely to be more positive for many children than those of many other therapeutic interventions and potentially less costly…”

I asked Sibold a few questions about the study. Here, via email, are his answers:

RZ: What’s the biggest surprise in the findings?

JS: We were not surprised really that exercise was associated with less sadness, etc., as exercise has been widely reported to have robust positive effects on a range of mental health markers.

However, our statistics were quite rigorous, and to see the positive associations extend to victims of bullying, including those who report suicidal behavior, was certainly a pleasant surprise and a first in the field we believe. It is also quite concerning that 25 percent of students overall report being bullied in the last year. This is a concern we cannot ignore in our schools. Continue reading

10 Bits Of Blizzard Therapy From Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘The Long Winter’

A train stuck in snow in 1881, the ferocious winter Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about. Note the man standing on top for scale. (Minnesota Historical Society on Wikimedia Commons)

A train stuck in snow in 1881, the ferocious winter Laura Ingalls Wilder described. Note the man standing on top for scale. (Minnesota Historical Society on Wikimedia Commons)

I pulled Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “The Long Winter” from my son’s bookshelf with the very explicit intention of helping myself feel better about this epic weather.

It worked.

Of course, any reading of the vivid “Little House on the Prairie” accounts of laborious pioneer life will always work to induce a great surge of gratitude for our modern comforts. Friends of mine call it “The Brutal Series.” (Wilder is back on the bestseller list, I see, with a never-before-published autobiography written in 1930.)

But “The Long Winter” offers, I would argue, the best of all antidotes to feelings that this is a horrible, awful, nasty winter. The trick is to compare our current winter woes not to our usual milder weather but to a dire prairie winter: the kind of winter when young Laura would wake, shivering, to a frigid house buffeted by blizzard, spend the dreary day twisting hay for heat and grinding wheat for the coarse brown bread that was her family’s last remaining food, crawl back into a cold bed and shiver until the shivering itself made her warm enough to fall asleep.

“There were no more lessons. There was nothing in the world but cold and dark and work and coarse brown bread and winds blowing.”

Suddenly, the Boston winter of 2015 feels more like a season of relative ease and mild inconvenience.

There’s nothing like reading the whole book, but here are 10 boons of modernity that “Long Winter” passages cast into gratitude-inducing relief:

1. Weather forecasts

“Heap big snow come.” That’s the closest thing Laura’s family gets to a forecast, from “a very old Indian.” The more detailed forecast: “Heap big snow, big wind.”

Much as we may sometimes curse the messengers who bring us dire forecasts, life without them meant that Laura’s Pa took his life into his hands every time he ventured the couple of miles back to their claim land to load the hay he carted to their house in the tiny town of De Smet. A blizzard could hit at any time, and he’d be unable to make his way home.

Author Laura Ingalls Wilder (Wikimedia Commons)

Author Laura Ingalls Wilder (Wikimedia Commons)

2. Powerful plows

A major element of “The Long Winter’s” plot is the snow blockade (see photo above) that stops all train traffic to the town for months, cutting it off from supplies. The “cut” around the tracks repeatedly fills with 20 feet of snow and ice, beyond the snowplow engine’s power to remove.

Even driving a horse and cart over such deep snow becomes a dangerous ordeal when the horse steps on a snow surface with air pockets beneath and falls, panicked, into a deep snow pit. It then falls to the driver to dig the horse out.

3. Stronger houses

Early in the winter, Laura wakes to find that “ice crackled on the quilt where leaking rain had fallen.”

…Her teeth chattered while she pulled on her clothes. Ma was dressing too, behind the curtain, but they were both too cold to say anything. They met at the stove where the fire was blazing furiously without warming the air at all. The window was a white blur of madly swirling snow. Snow had blown under the door and across the floor and every nail in the walls was white with frost.

4. Heat Continue reading