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Sad After Sex? New Study Suggests ‘Postcoital Dysphoria’ Is Widespread

A new study finds that 46 percent of women reported experiencing symptoms of postcoital dysphoria, or PCD, at least once in their lifetime, with 5.1 percent experiencing symptoms of the condition a few times within the past four weeks. (Peter Kelly/Flickr)

A new study finds that 46 percent of women reported experiencing symptoms of postcoital dysphoria, or PCD, at least once in their lifetime, with 5.1 percent experiencing symptoms of the condition a few times within the past four weeks. (Peter Kelly/Flickr)

For Kim, a 30-year-old teacher in North Carolina, it happens pretty much every time she has an orgasm: a feeling of profound sadness washes over her and she experiences a sense of regret. “It’s not that I don’t like sex,” she said in an interview. “I enjoy sex, I like to have orgasms, but after an orgasm, I feel this wave of sadness. It only lasts around a minute, but I’m just like, ‘Ugh, that doesn’t feel good.’ ”

For Kim’s sister, Rachel, 27, it’s even worse. She says that since she was a young adolescent, around 12 or 13, after an orgasm darkness and despair descends on her for 10 to 15 minutes. “It’s just really sad,” she said. “Almost like a feeling of homesickness, but I’m home. It happens every single time.”

Kim and Rachel (both happily married, they say, and both asking that their last names be omitted) had shared their intimate distress in the past — the topic came up when they both had a similar sadness breast-feeding their babies; a condition, they discovered, that’s known as dysphoric milk ejection reflex, or D-MER. But they didn’t fully realize their post sex sadness was “a thing” until they came across a Facebook post about a new study that called it by its official name: postcoital dysphoria, or PCD.

Also called “postcoital tristesse,” literally “sadness” in French, it’s a condition marked by feelings of melancholy, agitation, anxiety or sadness after intercourse that can last between five minutes and two hours. Sometimes there are tears.

If you look it up on Wikipedia you’ll learn “the phenomenon is traced to the Greek doctor Galen, who wrote, ‘Every animal is sad after coitus except the human female and the rooster.’ ”

Not true, according to the new study, published in the journal Sexual Medicine and led by researchers in Australia. They found that 46 percent of women reported experiencing PCD symptoms at least once in their lifetime with 5.1 percent experiencing symptoms of the condition a few times within the past four weeks.

There are big caveats. Data for the study were collected through an online questionnaire; female students over 18 who reported being sexually active were recruited via email at Australian universities and through Facebook. Ultimately, the total sample included 195 heterosexual, mostly white women, the study notes, and so the results can’t necessarily be generalized to the broader population. (Earlier estimates of the condition vary.)

“We go through life with our defenses up, and after sex, with that release, sometimes the feelings just flood in.”

– Psychologist and sex therapist Judy Silverstein

There are a number of theories on what’s behind PCD, and clearly more research is needed. Some say it’s hormones, others suggest the intense emotional release after sex let’s loose other deep emotions. Past sexual abuse may play a role in some cases, but this particular study suggests it’s not the main driver.

Judy Silverstein, a psychologist and sex therapist in Needham, Massachusetts, says she’s worked with many women who have tears or sadness after sex. She said she believes that biology, in addition to psychology, could be a factor.

“When orgasm occurs … there is a physiological release — after a buildup of sexual tension — which may lead to tears (or laughter) not accounted for by psychological variables,” she said. Continue reading

For The Lucky Few: Exercise-Induced Orgasms

(katieklimek/flickr)

Despite a lifelong devotion to sit-ups, this has never happened to me. Maybe I’m doing them wrong?

In any case, thanks to Deb Kotz of The Boston Globe for introducing readers to “the coregasm:” exercise-induced ecstasy that apparently does happen to an elite cadre of abdominally-focused athletes. File this under “Definitely Why To Exercise.” Consider:

The study, which surveyed 530 women who volunteered to answer questions about their sexual feelings when exercising, found that 370 of the survey respondents reported experiencing either an orgasm or sexual pleasure when they exercised. About one-third of that group said they occasionally had all-out orgasms most often while doing abdominal exercises, which strengthen core muscles, as well as climbing ropes, weight lifting or running.

Those sound like ridiculously high numbers to me, and study author Debby Herbenick told me that the study wasn’t designed to get the real incidence of exercise-induced orgasms — just to prove they actually occur and to get a sense of the kinds of activities that bring them on. Continue reading