Do You Feel Depressed After Sex? You are Not Alone
Feelings of relaxation, the release of tension, and a sensation of bliss are the feelings some people experience after sex. But for others the afterglow of sex is not only absent but replaced with feelings of depression. How common is depression after sex? And more so, what can cause an individual to feel sadness instead of positive emotions following sexual intimacy? In this post we are going to explore the answers to these questions about what researchers are calling postcoital dysphoria (feelings of melancholy, tearfulness, anxiety, irritability, and sadness after sexual intercourse).
There are many psychological reasons why someone might feel negative emotions after sexual relations including:
- Post -traumatic stress disorder related to prior sexual abuse.
- Having sex when you really don’t want to or when you are not emotionally or physically ready.
- Having sexual relations with someone who is abusive.
- Low self esteem about your body image or sexual performance.
- Fears that once the sex is over that your partner will leave or reject you.
- Fear that your relationship is moving too fast.
- Guilt or shame due to conflicting values, religious beliefs, or attitudes about sex.
- Feeling emotionally distant from your partner or experiencing conflict within the relationship.
In addition, if you are suffering from clinical depression your symptoms may carry over into all aspects of your life including sexual intimacy. Yet there may be another underlying source of poistcoital depression that most people don’t think about. Some experts theorize that for some people, feeling depressed after sex is not always caused by psychological reasons but instead, by one’s biology. A recent study conducted by Brian Bird, Robert Schweitzer, and Donald Strassberg (2011) published in the International Journal of Sexual Health, seems to lend some credence to this theory. This Australian study which included more than 200 women, found that one out of three study subjects reported experiencing postcoital depression at some time in their lives. A full 10% of respondents said that they had felt depressed following sexual relations within the previous four weeks.
The researchers found some correlation between childhood sexual abuse and lifetime postcoital dysphoria (PCD) but not for those reporting PCD within the previous four weeks. The study authors concluded that "biological predisposition" might play a bigger role in causing sadness after sex than other factors.
A 2009 New York Times article by Dr. Richard A. Friedman also suggests that psychology does not explain all cases of PCD. Doctor Friedman,a psychiatrist at New-York Presbyterian Hospital and Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Weil Cornell Medical College, describes patients who would come in to be treated for intense depression following sexual intercourse. These patients would report that their postcoital depression usually lasted for several hours or more. Yet when Friedman tried to find a psychological reason for this phenomenon, he could find none. He began to speculate that perhaps this plummet in mood following sex was more due to neurobiological causes than psychological ones for some of his patients. He further theorized that if the individual had a particularly intense orgasm that the physiological fall from an elevated state of pleasure could potentially induce depression.
Friedman tested his theory in an informal fashion by prescribing Prozac, an SSRI, to the patients who reported postcoital dysphoria. His reason was that one of common side effects of many SSRI’s including Prozac is that it can inhibit sexual responsiveness. By making sex less intense, Friedman further hypothesized that these patients would no longer experience after-sex depression. His treatment seemed to have been effective for these patients in that after two weeks of taking Prozac, their sex induced depression went away. But on the flip side their sexual experience was muted and "less intensely pleasurable."
We would like to hear from you now. Have any of you felt depressed after sex? What do you speculate is the reason for your postcoital dysphoria?
If you are experiencing sadness, irritability, or emotional distress following sex please seek the guidance and expertise of your doctor or mental health professional.
For more information on the diagnosis and treatment of depression please visit us on Health Central’s MyDepressionConnection.