Despite the pleasure and connection sex provides, some of us may still find ourselves crying, crampy or disconnected from our partner afterward.
All of these complex emotional and physical feelings may create a sense that you're doing something wrong or you're with the wrong person. However, post-sex events come in all varieties and are much more normal than you might think.
"Also known as the 'post-sex blues,' postcoital dysphoria is where someone feels a range of negative emotions after having sex," said Rachel Worthington, who works at Bedbible, a sex toy reviewer based in Denmark. "These can include sadness, depression, irritability, agitation, ennui and even anger."
Postcoital dysphoria (PCD) usually occurs about 10 minutes after an orgasm and the duration varies from person to person, she noted.
"PCD can happen even if the sex was consensual and enjoyable. It's not the same as negative feelings around unwanted or nonconsensual sex," Worthington added.
In research carried out in 2019, 41 percent of surveyed males reported experiencing PCD in their lifetime. A similar survey in 2015 revealed that 46 percent of female participants reported experiencing postcoital dysphoria symptoms at least once in their life.
"People who are prone to ruminating about their experiences and negative emotions—like those with anxiety and depression—are more at risk of experiencing PCD," Worthington said. "Even if you don't experience PCD itself, many people who tend to ruminate may want to analyze exactly what went down during sex, what wasn't satisfying and what they might have done wrong."
Worthington suggested the valid reasons someone might feel unsatisfied after sex.
"Perhaps you didn't feel cared for enough and that not enough attention was paid to your pleasure, or perhaps what you experienced was uncomfortable or painful," she explained. "It's also very common to get too much into our own heads during sex, and we can feel frustrated at ourselves for not being able to enjoy the experience as much as we feel we should've."
Body image also plays a big part in how satisfied people feel during and after sex. A 2017 study of men found negative body attitudes toward muscularity, body fat, height and genitals, as well as body self-consciousness during physical intimacy, were significantly related to greater sexual dissatisfaction.
"Men's concerns about parts of their bodies that might have their origin in an inflated cultural male body ideal are likely to manifest themselves in the form of exaggerated body self-consciousness during physical intimacy with a partner that hinders focusing on sexual pleasure and positive sexual experiences," the study stated.
For women, sexual dissatisfaction comes from myriad sources, including stress, distraction, body self-consciousness, societal pressures to act a certain way during sex, and physical barriers such as lack of natural lubrication or an inability to achieve orgasm.
According to Worthington, cramping after sex is not an uncommon occurrence, either.
"During an orgasm, a lot of the muscles around the abdominal and pelvic regions start to contract," Worthington said. "If this contraction doesn't stop after orgasm, as can happen, then you might experience some cramping. This can feel similar to period cramps, as those also involve the contraction of muscles around the uterus. However, as your body relaxes, they should disappear."
While post-orgasm cramps are fairly normal, they differ from the effects of dysorgasmia, an orgasmic disorder where women experience pain during climax, usually in the abdomen. Known to vary in severity, pain from dysorgasmia is different from that of dyspareunia, where the pain is experienced in or around the genitals during or after sex, with or without an orgasm.
Some reasons for this pain are pelvic floor muscle dysfunction, endometriosis, uterine fibroids and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). If you experience post-orgasm cramps that persist or are unbearably painful, visit a doctor to look into underlying issues.
"[Post-sex flush] is a reddening of the skin that happens when we're sexually aroused," Worthington said. "It occurs when our blood vessels relax and allow more blood flow closer to the skin, making the surface of the skin appear pink or red."
It's usually noticeable around the chest, neck, head and back, and can look blotchy or like a glow, depending on the lightness of your skin tone, the temperature of the environment and whether you have skin conditions such as rosacea.
Flushing during or after sex is a normal part of the sexual response cycle, the sequence of physical and emotional changes that occur as a person becomes sexually aroused and participates in sexually stimulating activities, including intercourse and masturbation.
You start to flush during the "desire" stage in the cycle, along with experiencing muscle tension, elevated heart rate, increased blood flow to the genitals and vaginal lubrication. Flush occurs during the "orgasm" stage of the cycle, and the body may retain that flush for several minutes post-orgasm as the body relaxes and the blood flow settles back to normal.
Transient global amnesia
Transient global amnesia (TGA) sounds scary, but in otherwise healthy people, the effects are short-lived. TGA is a sudden and temporary interruption of short-term memory. During this period, people may be disoriented and confused about where they are or what time it is. However, people who experience TGA remain alert and have normal thinking abilities.
The most common causes of TGA are strenuous physical activity and sexual intercourse, and the condition is most common in people older than 50. It's not entirely known why sexual intercourse can cause transient global amnesia and there is little research or literature on the relationship between the two.
The good news is TGA dissipates on its own within 24 hours. If memory loss is a recurring issue and happens more often than just after sex, seek the advice of a neurologist.
When should you see a doctor?
"It's hard to give a hard-and-fast answer as to when someone should see a doctor about any lingering effects of sex, be they physical, mental or emotional," Worthington said. "My advice is always that if you feel concerned about anything you experience during or after [consensual] sex, have a chat with a medical professional rather than spending time Googling symptoms and getting more and more anxious."
Worthington recommended scheduling an over-the-phone appointment or video call rather than going in person, which can often be scary when we're talking about sexual health issues.
"Some clinics also have sexual health specialists that can give you specific information and let you know if what you're experiencing is normal or not, as well as what to do about it," Worthington said.