Whether we want to admit it or not, many of us have felt it—that unexplainable sadness after sex. If you’ve experienced a feeling of depression after sex, rest assured that it’s a lot more common than you’d expect (even if the sex is awesome). Seriously, according to a study published by the Journal of Sexual Medicine, up to 46 percent of women reported experiencing feelings of anxiety, agitation, melancholy or sadness after sex at some point in their lifetimes. What’s going on? We recruited the help of Laurel House, author, dating and relationship expert to get the scoop on exactly what these feelings are all about.
1. You’re not ready.
A huge reason why young women experience negative emotions after sex is that, quite frankly, they are having sex when they don’t really want to or are not emotionally or physically ready. Low self-esteem, internalized fears or guilt, and/or emotional distance can also attribute to these feelings.
“If you feel low immediately after sex, it’s probably because you are finally allowing yourself to truly ‘feel,’ and you realize that you don’t feel connected enough to have sex with this person,” Laurel says. “Even if you are in a relationship and this isn’t just a hookup, having sex and the release of hormones upon orgasm can force you to feel emotions that you have been avoiding tapping into.”
Lauren encourages college women to avoid suppressing such feelings. “[This] doesn’t mean that you should indulge your grief and go deeply into it at that moment—but do make sure that you think about it at some point and be honest with yourself about where it came from and what it is telling you about where you are emotionally,” she says.
2. Hooking up just isn’t for you.
Feeling emotional after sex can happen to women at any age, so college women are no exception! There is nothing wrong with non-commital sex, but some women aren’t able to handle it as well as others. Ashley*, a junior at UCLA, has had her fair share of hookups in college—most of which resulted in her feeling bad about herself for the next few days. “This feeling comes mostly because I know it was just a hookup and we’re probably never going to even talk again,” she says. “It has me questioning myself and my decisions for sure.” Ashley is not alone.
Teresa*, a junior at James Madison University, thinks some women can feel sad after sex if they are not on the same page with their partner beforehand. “Once, I had sex with a guy I just met and he didn’t even ask for my number or anything before I left,” she says. “It made me upset that I was just another girl to him!” While some women are completely okay with no-commitment hookups, others are not—and it is important to find out where you stand on that ladder.
3. Biology may be to blame.
In the study published by the Journal of Sexual Medicine and Dr. Robert D Schweitzer, this post-sex sadness has a name and is referred to as postcoital dysphoria, PCD, or post-coital tristesse, PCT. It is something that can be experienced by both men and women but is relatively unique to each individual.
According to Laurel, PCD is totally normal and biological. When you have sex, tons of hormones—particularly dopamine and prolactin—are released that allow you to be vulnerable and tap into your true emotions. “With that, sometimes tears are shed too. You aren’t necessarily crying because you are sad, but you may be,” she says.
After reaching orgasm, a woman’s dopamine level drops while her prolactin level rises. Prolactin is the hormone that women have for milk production (but men have it, too). Prolactin works to counter dopamine and shut down sexual desire, and surges of it can continue to be released up to two weeks after orgasm, according to the Entelechy Journal. So, it is possible to be sad after sex for totally biological reasons!
4. You’re not connected to your partner
Laurel’s best piece of advice when it comes to sex is to connect emotionally before you connect physically––whether it is just a hookup or a significant other. “Some girls are better at shutting down or ignoring the emotional side of sex––others aren’t,” Laurel says. However, she notes that you have to be honest with yourself. “Can you truly view sex as just fun and feeling good? Truly? If not, do not do it! Check in with yourself. Be honest. Then, listen to what your gut is telling you. If you ignore it, you are hurting yourself even more,” she says.
While you may think that only girls who are hooking up with random guys get sad after sex, this is not the case! Even girls in relationships can experience sadness after sex. Laurel recommends addressing these feelings with your partner. “Thank them for making you feel safe enough to drop your walls and tap into your vulnerability,” she says.
Mia*, a sophomore at Millersville University, says that she protects herself from feeling discomfort by only having sex with someone she is completely comfortable with. “I know, in this generation, it may be old fashioned to make a guy wait for sex, but I never hook up the first time we hang out,” she says. “Even if it is just a fling, I still make sure I get to know the individual first—it makes me feel more comfortable during the experience and better about myself afterward.” This isn’t the case for everyone, but you have to know yourself and your limits.
No matter the case, if you are experiencing emotional distress after sex, you should always seek guidance from an outside source. Sex is a physical, psychological and emotional connection with someone—but what happens in the heat of the moment may not feel so great later on.
*Names have been changed