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Sex - Overview | March 25, 2021, 10:27 CDT

Science Explains Why You Cry After Sex

And it has nothing to do with your (or your partner's) performance.
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Sex can make you feel a whole lotta ways: ecstatic, relaxed, exhausted, peaceful, satisfied...weepy? Yep, that, too. If your orgasm is followed by a familiar lump in your throat, there's no need to be embarrassed—it's actually quite normal to get a little teary-eyed after getting off.

Crying after sex is tied to a medical condition called postcoital dysphoria—aka "post-sex blues"—or inexplicable feelings of tearfulness, sadness and/or irritability after a sexual experience (even a positive one!). It's not a rare issue at all: 92 percent of women and men experienced postcoital dysphoria, according to a 2020 study on postcoital symptoms in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. Women were more likely to experience sadness and mood swings after sex, while men were more likely to experience unhappiness and fatigue.

There's a reason why women shed more tears after sex than men, said Indigo Stray Conger, a sex therapist and owner of Mile High Psychotherapy in Denver. Women don't experience as much shame or confliction around accessing their tears, she explained.

That doesn't mean men can't (or shouldn't) cry; it's just that they tend to be more embarrassed or ashamed about crying in front of people, especially when nude, thanks to societal norms that suggest any show of emotion is a sign of weakness.

"When it does happen," Conger said, "it can be a little bit more intense for them because they're not used to or OK with crying."

The good news: Post-sex tears likely have nothing to do with what went down between the sheets. Instead, they're probably a reaction to everything else you're dealing with on a day-to-day basis. When you're stressed, the body makes more of a hormone called cortisol; typically, it's released in small amounts when we face low to moderate stress or anxiety, so we may not even notice the tension is there, Conger said.

Post-sex tears likely have nothing to do with what went down between the sheets.

But too much cortisol can build up over time, increasing muscle tension throughout your body (think about how tightly wound you might be after an argument with a partner or a bad meeting with your boss). If you aren't engaging in normal stress-relieving activities, such as exercising, eating right or sleeping for a solid eight hours per day, sex might be the only time your body has to work through that built-up tension.

When you start engaging in sexual activity, your body releases a surge of hormones, including dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, that build up excitement in the body, explained Michael Tahery, a board-certified OB-GYN for Westwood Surgical Center in Los Angeles. Your brain interprets this budding excitement the same way as built-up tension—and it needs a way to release it.

"Crying after sex can be a really positive release," Conger said. "Often, the only negative thing that happens is when we feel like it's not normal, so we start to stress out about it, causing the stress and anxiety to build back up."

There's one caveat there: Crying after sex is never normal if it's coming from traumatic sexual memories, an abusive relationship history where a person was forced into sex, or feelings of regret after sex, Tahery said. If that's the situation, he recommended seeing a trauma psychologist or psychiatrist to get to the core of the problem.

"If the right conditions exist, consensual sex with someone can be a very close emotional experience that involves most physical, mental and emotional aspects of a person's body," Tahery said.

When all of these come together, he added, the emotional joy and physical release can get so intense it may result in post-sex tears.

So if you feel the waterworks turning on after you've exhausted all other bodily fluids, don't be afraid to let it all out. Not only is it normal, but your body will thank you for it.