Feeling sad, anxious, or tearful after sex is common. This is called postcoital dysphoria.
If you’ve ever cried after sex, you’re not alone.
Postcoital dysphoria (PCD), also known as postcoital tristesse (PCT), is a condition where you feel anxious, depressed, or even irritable after sex or masturbation. In some cases, you might even have a panic attack.
Many people experience postcoital dysphoria at some point in their lives. However, if it’s causing you distress, you might benefit from speaking with a therapist or doctor.
Although postcoital dysphoria can result from relationship stress, you might also experience it after having sex with a loving partner you trust. Postcoital dysphoria isn’t always the result of underlying relationship problems, although it might be worth talking to a couple’s counselor if it’s an ongoing occurrence.
What is postcoital dysphoria?
Postcoital dysphoria is when you feel sad, anxious, or irritable after sex. It can also be called postcoital tristesse — tristesse being French for “sadness.”
Although it’s not often discussed, postcoital dysphoria seems relatively common. One 2015 study surveyed 233 female students and found that 46% experienced postcoital dysphoria at least once. Additionally, approximately 5% reported experiencing PCD symptoms a few times within the previous four weeks.
Men experience postcoital dysphoria, too. A 2019 study surveyed 1,208 male participants and found that 41% experienced it in their lifetime, approximately 20% experienced PCD in the previous four weeks, and between 3% and 4% of the sample reported experiencing PCD regularly.
Symptoms of postcoital dysphoria
Postcoital dysphoria can occur after masturbation or after sex with a partner. It can occur whether or not you orgasm.
The symptoms of postcoital dysphoria include:
- irritation or aggression
- regret or guilt
- numbness or emptiness
- panic attacks
Suggested read: Feeling empty? Here's what it could mean and how to stop it
Why do I feel sad after sex?
There’s a lack of research on the causes of postcoital dysphoria. However, if you feel sad or anxious after sex, there might be a few possible explanations.
Sex can cause several hormones to flood your body, especially oxytocin and dopamine. Orgasms can also trigger the release of hormones, including prolactin.
The rise (and subsequent drop) of hormones during and after sex can affect your mood, leaving you feeling sad or anxious after sex.
Past sexual trauma
Sexual trauma can affect the way you feel about sex.
Even during a consensual, enjoyable sexual encounter, sex can be triggering. A trigger is an overwhelming emotional reaction to something that reminds you of a traumatic event, often causing you to feel as if you’re reliving that trauma. Triggers can include sights, smells, textures, or even thoughts.
If you have experienced sexual trauma, you may want to speak with a therapist. Trauma counseling can help you manage your triggers and cope after being sexually abused.
Difficulties in your relationship
Sex can sometimes bring up underlying issues with your partner. Because it can be such an intense, emotional experience, sex can probe those unresolved difficulties, leaving you feeling overwhelmed.
However, it’s worth noting that postcoital dysphoria isn’t always an indication that you’re unhappy with your relationship or with the “wrong person.” It’s possible to experience PCD even when you completely love and trust your partner.
If your partner experiences postcoital dysphoria, don’t take it personally — it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong with your relationship or that the sex was unsatisfying. Instead, try gently asking your partner how you can help.
Difficulties with sex
Many of us have complicated feelings about sex. These issues can leave you upset or overwhelmed after sex, even if you enjoyed it.
- feel guilty or ashamed about having sex
- worry about your sexual performance
- have negative body image
- feel anxious about being with a new partner
Additionally, if you are experiencing (or have experienced) a sexual disorder, you might feel especially overwhelmed or anxious about sex.
General anxiety, stress, or depression
Stress can creep into the bedroom, even when you don’t want it to.
Sex can often be cathartic. You might feel comfortable relaxing and “feeling your feelings” after sex, especially when you’re with a partner you trust and care about.
As a result, your sadness or anxiety about other issues in your life — work, family difficulties, a recent loss — might feel more intense after sex.
That said, crying after an orgasm or sex isn’t always postcoital dysphoria. It can be tears of joy! We don’t just cry when we’re sad, but also when we’re happy, relieved, or overwhelmed — and it’s possible to feel any of those after sex.
Diagnosing postcoital dysphoria
A physician or therapist can diagnose postcoital dysphoria. However, getting a diagnosis is not necessary before reaching out for help. To find relief and clarity, you can talk directly with a therapist.
Suggested read: Is masturbation bad for you?
Treatment options for postcoital dysphoria
Postcoital dysphoria is common, and it does not always cause concern. However, if you find your PCD symptoms distressing or if they happen frequently, there are some ways to manage them.
If you find yourself feeling sad, anxious, or overwhelmed after sex, you can try to calm yourself by:
- grounding yourself
- trying relaxation techniques
- taking a warm, mindful shower
- practicing deep breathing exercises
- doing something fun and distracting, like watching a movie
- communicating with your partner (for example, tell them if you want to cuddle, talk, or be given space)
In the long term, speaking with a therapist could be helpful. You can either go for individual counseling or couples counseling. The latter might be a good idea if it also affects your partner or if you think underlying relationship problems contribute to your postcoital dysphoria.
If you think stress is causing you to feel anxious or sad after sex, try engaging in effective relaxation techniques and methods for coping with stress.
Feeling sad, anxious, or agitated after sex is surprisingly common — but if it’s a frequent issue for you, you may want to seek treatment. Postcoital dysphoria can be caused by various issues, from sexual trauma to general stress and anxiety.
Speaking with a therapist may be best if you often feel upset after sex. Therapy can help you identify and address the underlying feelings that lead to postcoital dysphoria.