PCD Post-coital dysphoria is “a thing.”
This week in Australia I was on ABC, Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s hit show, Triple J “Hook Up” with Hannah Riley talking about what to do if you feel sad after sex.
It was a call-in show and two guys and one gal called and talked about how they cry after making love.
It’s more common than you think. So if you’ve ever been puzzled by negative feelings that seem to arise out of nowhere after making love, you’ll want to read on…
46% of women know from experience that having intercourse doesn’t always end in euphoria… sometimes it ends in dysphoria. Evermore surprising, new research shows that it’s not just human females who fall prey to post-coital dysphoria (PCD); males of our species do, too.
Robert Schweitzer, professor of psychology at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, has been researching the phenomenon for many years. You can take the Post-Coital Experience survey here. He initially studied women and eventually began to study men as well. He included both genders in his studies and selected participants at various stages of life who were married, unmarried, and divorced. His research found that negative emotions after making love occurs across the human spectrum regardless of age, gender, marital status, or marital satisfaction.
TAKE THE SURVEY YOURSELF
Few women find it surprising or unusual to feel sad or even shed tears after intercourse. In one study, 46% of women reported experiencing PCD symptoms at least once in their lifetime and 5.1% had experienced symptoms more than once in the four weeks prior to the study.
THERE IS HOPE
For any given man, however, it can be quite alarming the first time he sees a woman’s face clouded with sadness in the aftermath of sex rather radiating in the oft-touted afterglow. But in general, men come to terms with this fairly common occurrence. It’s a different story the first time he experiences the blues himself after sex. He will not only be alarmed but may feel confused, worried he’s abnormal, and even feel embarrassed by his strong, inexplicable feelings.
In reality, men who experience post-coital dysphoria are not abnormal; they are simply invisible to media and to a culture that insists men are not as vulnerable as women when it comes to sexuality.
One of the men who called in to the radio show cried after ejaculating, even when he masturbated. For him, I recommended semen retention (not ejaculating) and getting to the root cause of his upset which is likely shame of some sort.
What is true, and what research bears out, is that men’s responses to lovemaking run across a full spectrum. For many men, sex makes them feel great. They jump up after intercourse, full of energy or ― more commonly ― roll over spent, but happy. For other men, feelings of sadness, upset, or disconnection arise after sex.
It should be noted that PCD is distinct from the refractory period, wherein a man is unable to get hard for a time after an ejaculatory orgasm. In contrast, a man can have sad feelings after intercourse even if he doesn’t ejaculate; the condition is emotional, not physiological. (Serotonin reuptake inhibitors have been used to treat PCD with success but I personally feel that is just masking a deeper issue.)
I’m guessing that one cause of PCD is a person’s “attachment style.” You can be securely or insecurely attachment-parented. Your attachment style tracks back to infancy and childhood, to the first bond you formed with your mother or primary caregiver. According to studies among American adults, nearly half of us suffer from an insecure attachment style.
The other half were fortunate to form a secure attachment and therefore have more positive emotions during sex, as well as higher levels of arousal and orgasm. Securely-attached people tend to be better communicators than those who have an insecure attachment style that makes them susceptible to negative emotions during or after sex. People are more likely to have a low libido, and/or difficulty getting aroused or achieving climax; they are not so good at communicating, take more risks sexually, and have a higher incidence of sexually transmitted infections if they are emotionally less secure in their bonding to others.
That being said, if you have an insecure attachment style, these challenges can be overcome by: 1) becoming aware, 2) understanding your particular attachment issues, 3) being patient with yourself, given that you have to make an extra effort to bond with someone, and 4) working it through with a partner who is willing to help you feel more secure.
PCD may have other root causes including the orgasm gap, i.e.: the great divide between men and women vis-à-vis the frequency and ease of having an orgasm during intercourse. Generally, a man can achieve climax from intercourse more than 90% of the time, whereas 55% women orgasm only some of the time from penetration; the rest of the time she struggles or has given up hope.
If you had sex without an orgasm it would make you sad and a bit worried on future attempts, leading to a negative sexual spiral.
Body image can contribute to PCD, especially for women who tend to worry about their weight and body style more than men. Guys are often self-conscious about the size of their penis; this is especially common among men who watch a lot of porn and thus have a skewed view of penis size. They begin to fear their penis is inferior due, not only to its size, but the angle, shape, and whether or not they are circumcised.
A lot of men struggle with premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, or stamina issues that make it difficult to last as long as they’d like — or as long as their woman would like. Anxiety over their performance would seem natural in that case. Other men struggle to have an orgasm at all (delayed ejaculation), or have been watching so much sensational porn they can’t achieve a climax when they get with a real live partner. All of these concerns can cause negative feelings to arise after sex.
For both men and women, PCD can be related to general mental worries such as pregnancy or STIs, which is why I place so much emphasis on context, or what I call “loverspace” in my book, Sexual Soulmates. <== Download Your Copy Here Before I Stop Giving It Away Free. Read page 21 to learn how to remove worries by setting a comforting loverspace before sex.
A theory I respect that is congruent with conversations I have with other women, is that sex puts us in touch with deep emotions, and PCD is an intense release that allows ordinarily buried feelings to rise to the surface. Our enteric nervous system holds emotion in our womb. Both men and women tend to let go during lovemaking and, in the letting go, allow our defenses to drop. The flood of emotion that ensues can be quite intense.
Many women cry, laugh or even howl from orgasmic release. This is extremely common and quite good for a nervous system reboot.
If a man or woman is unable to reach orgasm, sheer frustration may cause PCD. Similarly, if a partner goes along with sex out of a sense of duty, or gives what I call “mercy sex” to assuage a partner or get them off their back, one or both may be swarmed by sadness in the aftermath.
Any number of causes can contribute to PCD: depression, medical issues, poor exercise habits, hormonal disruptions, medication, sexual shame, repression, and especially a history of sexual abuse.
Issues with a partner can also be causal. In the book, Why Men Stop Having Sex, the authors survey had some unhappy results: 68% say their partner isn’t adventurous so sex is no longer satisfying, 61% say their partner doesn’t enjoy sex which lessens their own enjoyment, 48% say they’re not interested in their wife or partner anymore, 44% say they’re angry at their partner, and 41% are just plain bored. In fact, boredom is, across the board for men and women of all ages, the single biggest factor contributing to sexual frustration.
There are more disconcerting statistics: 32% of men say that they don’t find her sexually attractive, 20% say they’re having an affair, and 9% say she’s having an affair. Negative mood and depression accounts for 34% of people being dissatisfied with their sexuality, 25% would simply rather masturbate, 6% say they’re just too busy to be interested in sex, and 3% have never in their lives been interested in having sex.
We can see that there are a myriad of reasons a man or a woman could feel sad or upset after sex. None of this is “abnormal” on the spectrum of sexual behavior. All people, men and women, run the range of human emotion about their sexuality.
Regardless of the circumstances that contribute to PCD, it’s important to honor where you are rather than assume “something’s wrong” with you. Do your best to understand your feelings and identify specifically what’s impacting you. Don’t compare yourself to others, to what you imagine they are experiencing in the bedroom. Then focus on healing, problem-solving with a partner, and finding wholeness in whatever way is right for you.
Our bodies are designed to experience pleasure before, during, and after sex. Anyone who struggles with PCD can set their intention on remedying the situation and turning it around so they can experience the kind of post-coital euphoria that makes for relationship happiness.
Susan S. Bratton
“Trusted Hot Sex Advisor To Millions”
CEO, Personal Life Media
Originally published on Wordpress