Original item by Brynna Standen for HealthDigest

[Occasionally the mainstream acknowledges that the hormonal alterations that follow orgasm can set off unwanted mood changes. Here’s HealthDigest’s write-up about post-coital dysphoria. Perhaps one day researchers will investigate the benefits of non-goal-driven intimacy.]

While the history of recreational sex is wrought with imposed feelings of taboo and shame, in today’s modern world many cultures celebrate sex — even encouraging participants’ enjoyment of it. And why shouldn’t they? Sex should be fun! But for some people, even the most convivial of sexual encounters can be followed by deep feelings of sadness and anxiety.

This phenomenon is known as post-coital dysphoria (PCD) — a condition that causes feelings of depression and irritability after engaging in consensual sex (per Psych Central). Symptoms of PCD can include crying, depression, anxiety, aggression, regret, shame, and emptiness. Some people may even experience panic attacks. For people who experience PCD, the quickness with which feelings of post-orgasm elation are replaced with more sinister ones can be jarring. However, the condition is surprisingly common.

A 2015 study published in Sexual Medicine reported that 46% of female participants admitted to experiencing PCD at least once in their lives, with 5% reporting that they experienced symptoms a few times within the last four weeks. And while women are more likely to experience PCD than their male counterparts, it’s not by much. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy found that 41% of men owned up to experiencing PCD at least once, and a whopping 20% said they had symptoms within the previous four weeks.

Why PCD happens

While you may find your PCD symptoms strange — especially when it comes after some particularly enjoyable sex – Glamour suggests that it’s nothing more than a part of the human sexual response cycle. We experience the sexual response cycle in four stages: excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution. For people who experience PCD, symptoms begin to arise during the resolution stage.

PCD can occur for a number of reasons, but for many people, researchers believe it can be chocked up to a hormonal response (per Healthline). During sex, feel-good hormones like oxytocin and dopamine are released into the body in generous proportions. However, following climax, these hormones tend to drop significantly, and the effect can cause mood changes.

Other common triggers of PCD can include past sexual trauma, difficulties in the relationship, and negative emotions surrounding the idea of sex (per Psych Central). For people who have experienced sexual trauma in the past, even fun and consensual sex can trigger PCD symptoms like depression and anxiety. And while your partner experiencing PCD is not necessarily a sign that there’s trouble in the relationship, when there are underlying issues, oftentimes PCD symptoms can arise in the aftermath of an intense sexual encounter. What’s more, because guilt and shame has been so ingrained in the conversation surrounding sex in our society, many people — particularly women — internalize that (per Glamour). These fears and anxieties can leave many people feeling bad in the aftermath sex, even if they had a nice time.