Mental Health

Study on postcoital dysphoria finds men can suffer inexplicable negative feelings after sex — not just women

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Over a third of men have experienced inexplicable feelings of tearfulness or agitation following sexual activity. This finding comes from a study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy.

It is typically believed that consensual sex is followed by positive feelings such as relaxation and fulfillment. However, psychology research has identified something called Postcoital Dysphoria, which refers to feelings of sadness, uneasiness or irritability that occur immediately after otherwise enjoyable sex. Specifically, these feelings of dysphoria can appear after sex that is consensual and satisfying and without obvious explanation. This phenomenon was uncovered in women, but until recently had not yet been explored in male subjects.

Cultural beliefs about masculinity tend to inflate the expectation that sex is always pleasurable and researchers explain that inexplicable, negative feelings after sex contradict these assumptions. Researchers wanted to determine whether postcoital dysphoria would be evident in men. They also wanted to see whether the occurrence of dysphoria after sex would be associated with other factors such as history of abuse, mental health, and sexual functioning.

A sample of 1,208 sexually active men completed questionnaires asking them if they had “experienced inexplicable tearfulness, sadness, or irritability following consensual sexual activity” in the past four weeks or in their lifetime. The questionnaires also included the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale to measure their distress levels in the last four weeks, and six questions evaluating past experiences of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. In addition, subjects were asked questions targeting the sexual dysfunctions of Delayed Ejaculation, Premature Ejaculation, Erectile Dysfunction, and Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder.

Results showed that 41% of the men had experienced inexplicable negative feelings after sex at some point in their lifetime. What’s more, 20% reported having these feelings within the last four weeks. Just over 4% of men reported regular postcoital dysphoria across their lifetime.

Results showed that psychological distress, childhood sexual abuse, and sexual dysfunction were all associated with increased instances of postcoital dysphoria. Researchers call for further research to more closely examine the role of these factors.

“It has, for example, been established that couples who engage in talking, kissing, and cuddling following sexual activity report greater sexual and relationship satisfaction, demonstrating that the resolution phase is important for bonding and intimacy,” study author Joel Maczkowiack said.

“So the negative affective state which defines PCD has potential to cause distress to the individual, as well as the partner, disrupt important relationship processes, and contribute to distress and conflict within the relationship, and impact upon sexual and relationship functioning.”

Interestingly, the presence of Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder and Premature Ejaculation in the past four weeks had a significant association with lifetime postcoital dysphoria. Researchers suggest that this could mean that postcoital dysphoria increases the likelihood of future sexual dysfunction. They also explore the possibility that recent issues with sexual performance might cause men to view past sexual experiences in a more negative light, leading them to recall more instances of dysphoria.

Still, researchers assert that the associations between sexual dysfunction and postcoital dysphoria were small. This supports evidence that negative feelings can occur inexplicably after sex, and do not only occur with sexual dysfunction.

The authors point out that this research challenges popular assumptions about how men experience the resolution phase and that these findings may be reassuring to others who have experienced something similar. They express, “Males who experience PCD, and their partners, may find it comforting to know that they are not alone in their experience and that negative postcoital experiences may simply reflect normal variation in human sexual response”.

The study, “Postcoital Dysphoria: Prevalence and Correlates among Males”, was authored by Joel Maczkowiack and Robert D Schweitzer.