Moments following sexual intercourse aren’t always like they appear in the movies.
Although for some people the period immediately following sex is characterised by feelings of closeness, intimacy and contentment, for other people it can be a very different story.
Feelings of sadness, tearfulness and irritability following sex can occur too. This is a phenomenon known as postcoital dysphoria (PCD). Sometimes referred to as the post sex blues, PCD can cause people to feel anxious, agitated and distant after sex, even if they enjoyed it.
The condition has been recognised in women, but previously there had been no studies undertaken to determine whether men can be likewise afflicted. Until now.
In a world first study, published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia have examined the experiences of men with PCD.
Professor Robert Schweitzer from the school of Psychology and Counselling, together with Masters student Joel Maczkowiack looked at the results of an international online survey of anonymous men from the USA, Australia, the UK, Russia, New Zealand, Germany and other countries.
They found that 41 per cent of those who participated in the survey said they have experienced PCD during their life, with 20 per cent of participants reporting that they had experienced postcoital dysphoria in the previous four weeks. About four per cent of respondents said they suffered from PCD on a regular basis.
“The media would have us believe that sex for males follows a particular trajectory, and results in particular feelings, and often “bonding behaviour”. This is not always the case, there are a range of responses, as our research demonstrates,” Professor Schweitzer told Theravive.
The researchers said that the men who participated in the study, and who had experiences feelings of sadness following sex described a range of emotions. Some said they felt like they didn’t want to be touched and just wanted to be left alone, others said they felt unsatisfied and annoyed following sex, some reported feeling fidgety and some said they wanted to leave or distract themselves from what had just occurred. One participant said he felt emotionless and empty following sex.
These feelings were in sharp contrast to the men who experienced positive feelings following sex. They described feeling close to their partner, of being satisfied and content and having an overall feeling of well-being.
There has long been a stereotype that women have far more complex feelings associated with sex than men, but Schweitzer says this research suggests that male feelings surrounding sex could be far more complicated and varied than previously believed.
Human sexual response includes four phases. Desire; which refers to a libido or longing for sexual activity, arousal; which involves excitement in response to a situation, orgasm, which is typically the shorter of the phases and typically will only last a few seconds, and resolution; the period following sex where the body typically returns to its normal function.
Schweitzer says although there has been much research on the first three phases of desire, arousal and orgasm, there is still a reasonable amount of mystery surrounding the resolution phase. As such, he says, it is poorly understood.
His research found that it is possible for men to experience a variety of feelings in the resolution phase, post sex.
“We found that about 4 per cent of men routinely experience a range of responses following sexual intercourse, which we can now conceptualise in terms of behavioural symptoms (physically withdrawing from their partners, irritability), emotional symptoms (feelings of emptiness, sadness) or somatic symptoms (headache),” he told Theravive.
Although symptoms of PCD aren’t necessarily problematic (Schweitzer says it is best to be open and talk about it), in some couples it can lead to problems with intimacy and other interactions.
Maczkowiack says that the resolution phase of sexual response is an important time of bonding and intimacy, and that it has been well established that couples who talk, kiss and cuddles after sex report greater satisfaction in their relationship and in their sex life.
Those experiencing PCD may feel distant and not want to be touched. This has the potential to interrupt an important bonding part of the relationship. The researchers say that this can lead to conflict in the relationship and have an impact on sexual function.
Schweitzer says that in Western cultures it is not uncommon for men to feel pressure around expectations and assumptions about their sexual performance and preferences. The idea that men always want sex and experience sex in a pleasurable way is an example that is contradicted by PCD research.
Although it may not be talked about, Schweitzer says it may be impacting more men than we think.
“Since publishing our findings, I have been receiving emails from men from around the world describing their experiences,” he said.
Elizabeth Pratt is a medical journalist and producer. Her work has appeared on Healthline, The Huffington Post, Fox News, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Sydney Morning Herald, News.com.au, Escape, The Cusp and Skyscanner. You can read more of her articles here. Or learn more about Elizabeth and contact her via her LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.