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.”
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