Toward the end of a bad relationship, I started feeling depressed immediately after orgasming. I later learned this isn’t uncommon—and women deserve to know why.
The first sign that my three-and-a-half-year relationship was over was that we stopped making love. We didn’t stop having sex (though our passion had definitely cooled), but we stopped having any real connection in bed. When we did do it, it felt obligatory—a compromise to satiate my libido so I’d stop nagging him. It was obvious, at least to me, that my partner wasn’t into it, and it felt like he had no interest in whether or not I got off.
As a result, sex started to feel dirty and overly complicated. What had once been my favorite thing on planet earth now felt like a chore. After a few months of feeling like a sexually needy burden, plagued by guilt over my high sex drive and disinterested parter, I began experiencing what I would later find out sexologists call postcoital dysphoria: a sudden and unexplained sadness, even crying, after sex.
If you haven’t experienced it, let me tell you: PCD is the worst. Postsex, your body is drowning in a sea of feel-good chemicals like oxytocin and dopamine, which is why every single article on the Internet says orgasms make you feel good. But I felt like crap after sex, especially when I either got off during or finished myself off after. Orgasms left me bereft and inconsolable, overwhelmed with anxiety over why I felt so terrible after something that should have been so great.
This postorgasmic phenomenon is way more common than you might think—research on PCD is still pretty scarce, but one study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found nearly 50 percent of women surveyed have felt the postsex blues at some point. (Men can experience it too.) It’s believed that about 2 percent of women experience it regularly.
Researchers aren’t 100 percent sure why some people experience this hard-core crash of emotions after sex, but it likely has something to do with our body’s reaction to all the hormones and emotions that come with sex, according to sexologists. “I believe that when an orgasm takes place, it triggers a release. For most, it’s a stress release, but for others they find their body also releasing tears, emotions, and aggressiveness,” says Sunny Rodgers, a certified clinical sexologist and sex coach in Los Angeles. In this way, it’s often linked to past sexual trauma, she says.
This is exactly what it felt like for me. Every time I orgasmed, it was like I was releasing the deep emotional anguish of my failing relationship. It was sorrowful, painful, and depressing. Instead of riding a wave of pleasure, I would roll over and quietly weep until I fell asleep, lost in my own head and heartache.
When the relationship finally ended, so did the PCD—or so I thought. For a while, I would have casual sex with decent men and women and feel completely fine afterward. I still cried myself to sleep over my breakup, but I wasn’t sad after sex—sex finally felt pleasurable again.
Before long, I found myself spending time with someone new who made me feel things I didn’t think I’d ever feel again. The sex was amazing, and he was lovely and kind. But one night, after some of the truly head-over-heels sex—the kind that happens only in the glow of a budding relationship—my postcoital dysphoria came back with a vengeance. In the aftermath of my orgasm, I felt totally despondent, like I had fallen to the bottom of a well. After my boyfriend fell asleep, I crept into the living room where I stayed awake for hours crying.
The PCD kept coming back—not every time we had sex but enough to leave both me and my partner feeling helpless. We would have wonderful sex followed by a wave of desolation. What the hell was wrong with me? We were happy. I was happy. This was a good relationship where I felt cherished and safe.
“Often we think we’ve processed a past trauma”—big or small—“but the effects can linger,” Rodgers says. The important thing is not to judge those feelings, or yourself for having them. “I try to explain that the stress release of sex can allow other pent-up emotions to be released,” she says. “Allowing those feelings to happen and dissipate can be healing.”
My episodes of postcoital crying are becoming less and less frequent, and I am happy to report my partner and I still have a robust and fabulous sex life—I never feel like a sexually needy burden to him. But the specter of PCD is still there. Frankly, it makes sex kind of scary when you know intense melancholy can follow. It’s almost like its own kind of trauma, a constant pang of fear in the back of mind that my PCD will return.
Like any sort of depression or trauma, there’s no miracle cure that will guarantee I never feel like curling up into a ball, vulnerable and alone, after sex with my partner. There’s no instant fix that can erase the feelings of unworthiness that worked their way into my subconscious during my last relationship. So my strategy is three-pronged: talk honestly with my partner about how I’m feeling, devote myself to self-care (writing in my journal and taking hot baths with CBD oil are my jam) when I’m feeling fragile, and acknowledge the fact that these feelings will pass and that they’re not my fault.
It’s a work in progress, but in the meantime I’m keeping tissues by the bed and my therapist on speed dial.