Evolution’s perennial hunger for genetic diversity gives rise to much heartache (unless we master an approach to sex that protects the harmony in our relationships). It also generates a lot of pointed humour. Perhaps the following guide for men, supplied by an unknown internet wag, best describes the most common form an orgasm hangover takes in women. (Also note that the wag’s perceptions may be tarnished by his own post-orgasm fluctuations.)

Feminine glossary

(1) Fine

This is the word women use to end an argument when they are right and you need to shut up.

(2) Five Minutes

If she is getting dressed, this means half an hour. Five minutes is only five minutes if you have just been given five more minutes to watch the game before helping around the house.

(3) Nothing

This is the calm before the storm. This Means Something, and you should be on your toes. Arguments that begin with “nothing” usually end in “fine”.

(4) Go Ahead

This is a dare, not permission. Don’t Do It!

(5) Loud Sigh

This isn’t actually a word, but rather a non-verbal statement often misunderstood by men. A loud sigh means she thinks you are an idiot and wonders why she is wasting her time standing here and arguing with you about nothing. (Refer back to # 3 for the meaning of “nothing”.)

(6) That’s Okay

This is one of the most dangerous statements a women can make to a man. “That’s okay” means she wants to think long and hard before deciding how and when you will pay for your mistake.

(7) Thanks

A woman is thanking you, do not question, or faint. Just say “you’re welcome”. (All is well unless she says “Thanks a lot” – that is PURE sarcasm and she is not thanking you at all. DO NOT say “you’re welcome”. That will bring on a ‘”whatever”.)

(8) Whatever

This is a woman’s way of saying, “Go to Hell”.

(9) Don’t worry about it; I’ll do it

Another dangerous statement, meaning this is something that a woman has told a man to do several times, but is now doing for herself. This will later result in a man asking “What’s wrong”? For the woman’s response refer to #3.

Women have, of course observed distressing post-orgasm mood changes in men too. Sexual satiety (a lover’s feeling that s/he has had more than enough) can easily erupt into distaste. That’s no laughing matter.

I wondered why I felt like he did a Jekyll and Hyde after especially great sex. I couldn’t help feeling like well, he was so very “done” with me and I should just leave the room, or perhaps his planet. I would physically leave, feeling very hurt, used, etc. He was always surprised when I expressed how I felt, and pretty much made me feel stupid or “making up things to be upset about” for “acting like he doesn’t love me” when the sex was great according to him. Whew. I’m not nuts, he just doesn’t see himself.

Orgasm hangover?

An orgasm hangover in men is often easy to spot immediately. The man behaves as if he has been poleaxed. Neurochemically speaking, he might well have been.

Depending upon the circumstances he may roll over and snore. Or feel unmotivated to do anything but passively watch a screen. Often he “needs space.” Alternatively, he may feel unusually anxious or reactive.

The neurochemical fluctuations underlying these responses can play havoc. They may influence lovers’ priorities and distort the way they see each other. Such distorted “vision” may continue for days while a lover’s limbic system returns to homeostasis. Often men have recognised the link between cause and effect (that is, between orgasm and feeling “off” for a time afterward). They’ve learned to roll with it.

Women, unless they are among the percentage who, after orgasm, dissolve into tears, irritability or other obvious symptoms, may genuinely believe that orgasm hasn’t played any tricks on them. For physiological reasons, most of which have not yet been elucidated, women often do not feel as dramatic a neurochemical shift following orgasm. (Especially if they only pretended to climax, and finished the job later.)

They certainly never suspect that The Big O (or even intense arousal) can be like donning a pair of glasses that subsequently distorts their perception of those around them – at least until their neurochemistry returns to balance. Yet these sneaky (that is, subconscious) alterations can dramatically alter how they see the world. Tragically, this can happen even with respect to their nearest and dearest. (See the beginning of this post!)

Scientific evidence of such shifts after climax is in its infancy and still clouded by the wishful thinking in sexology advice counselling more and bigger orgasms. But see this collection of evidence of shifts after sex.

Projecting neurochemical shifts onto a partner

People tend to project their feelings onto those around them. If the feelings are (1) subconscious feelings of uneasiness or scarcity (brought on by temporary neurochemical imbalance), and (2) they don’t arise until days after The Big Event, they can be especially treacherous.

In such a case, the unsuspecting sufferer is blind to the possibility that post-O neurochemical shifts are at work. Instead the sufferer presumes that something external is responsible for uneasy feelings. Often they quite naturally look around for something or someone to pin the blame on. (See the first section of this post!) Dissatisfaction, resentment, emotional neediness, discouragement about the future of a relationship, and even shopping around for a new mate can follow.

These feelings can be quite intense and destructive of the very relationships that best serve our wellbeing. Biology clearly doesn’t prioritise our welfare.

This happened with my soon-to-be-ex wife. The next day was horrid. It took a long time to recognize the pattern, and even longer to be sure of it. …It was so strong a pattern that, after sex, I would swear to myself “If she gets weird tomorrow, I will know why and will not let it get to me”. But, sure enough, the next day, the attacks, if they were not initially successful, would get so vicious and deranged that I eventually did take the bait and fought back. A sad pattern. The worst part is that the sex was awesome, and frequent. So the nasty fights were also frequent. Which is why she is my soon-to-be-ex wife.

This is how our evolved genetic programming frequently drives a wedge of unnecessary unhappiness between lovers. The effect is often to move them (or their mate) onward to a new lover. To anthropomorphise for a moment, evolution heartily dislikes monogamy. Genetic diversity is a better bet for our selfish genes. But not for us.

Suggestion: Make an experiment to gauge if you (or you both) are affected by the phenomena discussed above. For 3 weeks engage in daily affectionate contact without climax. Do things flow more smoothly in your union? If you return to conventional sex, what do you notice over the following two weeks? Do circumstances or mood swings push you apart in unanticipated ways?

Keep a sense of humour

Become an observant lover, especially of yourself. Resist rushing to assign blame.

F I have been in a committed marriage for 15 years, but have noticed a pattern of being very tired/depressed/irritable the day after a strong orgasm. I feel fine the next day after sex if my partner orgasms and I don’t.

M I have always been aware of the irritability I feel the next day after sex. I have even gone so far to say, “Tomorrow I’m going to be so sweet to her” only to be disappointed in my own behaviour. I was recently joking with her about how great it would be for our health if we had sex all the time. She joked back implying that I’m always grouchy after sex!

Learning to laugh at the tricks biology plays in its pursuit of genetic success can help us to avoid falling for (or acting upon) temporary perception shifts that distort our “vision”. Have compassion for each other as you journey together. Stay focused on the many gifts your relationship offers. Keep a sense of humour about how biology subtly pulls our strings for its own ends. Give each other time to restore neurochemical balance after passionate encounters.

Better yet, learn to duck biology’s subconscious darts altogether.