Relaxation and a sensation of bliss — that might be what you expect to feel after sex. Unfortunately, however, some people experience what is called postcoital dysphoria (PCD). PCD involves feelings of melancholy, tearfulness, anxiety, irritability, and sadness.
When you are overcome with feelings of depression after sex, you might think there is something wrong with you — but it’s actually quite common. According to a study completed in 2015, 46 percent of people indicated they had felt this way at least once in their life, with 5.1. percent indicating they experienced sadness or depressive symptoms after sex recently, and 2 percent indicating they experience PCD all the time.
If you experience PCD, you might think it points to an underlying dissatisfaction with your relationship. However, researchers have found that “there appears to be no relationship between PCD and intimacy in close relationships.” A previous study also found that for most women who experience PCD, psychological well-being did not play a role. Only 2.5 percent of participants indicated psychological stress caused or contributed to their PCD symptoms.
Previous abuse could increase risk of PCD
One possible predictor of PCD is childhood sexual abuse, according to the study completed in 2015. This backs up previous studies that showed a significant correlation between sexual, physical, and emotional abuse and PCD. People who have suffered abuse, especially sexual abuse, may have negative views or anxiety regarding sexual contact. Additionally, those who have been abused in the past may be more likely to enter relationships where they do not feel in control or feel their wants and needs are not addressed. This may lead to dissatisfaction with their sexual experiences.
Attachment anxiety as a cause for PCD
Researchers also found a potential connection to attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance and PCD. Differentiation of self is the ability to separate yourself from your significant other or your family; this would make it difficult for you to process your own feelings during sex. Having a greater differentiation of self allows for increased intimacy and greater sexual satisfaction. Those who have trouble with differentiation may be more anxious during sexual intercourse because they fear losing themselves or losing control.
Do genetics play a role in PCD?
There may be another underlying source of PCD. Some experts theorize that for some people, feeling depressed after sex is not always caused by psychological reasons but rather by their biology.
A previous study conducted by Brian Bird, Robert Schweitzer, and Donald Strassberg published in the International Journal of Sexual Health in 2011 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 PCD at some time in their lives. A full 10 percent 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 (PCD), but not for those reporting symptoms 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.
If you’re struggling with feelings of depression or anxiety after sex, talk to your doctor or a mental health care professional.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.