By Emma Young
Immediately after consensual and satisfactory sex, most people report feeling positive, content and psychologically close to their partner. But for some, it has the opposite effect, leaving them tearful and irritable for anything from a few minutes to a few hours. Commonly known as the “post-sex blues”, psychologists call it “post-coital dysphoria” (PCD) and until recently they had only studied it in women.
For example, in 2015, Robert D Schweitzer at the Queensland University of Technology led a study of 230 Australian female students, in which 46 per cent reported experiencing PCD at some point in their lives, and about 2 per cent said they experienced it regularly.
Now masters student Joel Maczkowiack and Schweitzer have published – in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy – the first ever study to show that some men suffer from PCD, too.
The researchers conducted an anonymous online survey of 1,208 men aged 18 to 81, from 78 different countries. Most were in a relationship that had lasted for at least a year.
Forty-one per cent of these men reported having experienced PCD at some point in their lifetime, and for 20 per cent, it had happened in the four weeks preceding the study. Just over 4 per cent reported experiencing PCD regularly. The descriptions of how PCD feels included, “I don’t want to be touched and I want to be left alone”; “I feel unsatisfied, annoyed and very fidgety”; and being “emotionless and empty”.
The survey also assessed current symptoms of depression and anxiety and past sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Current psychological distress was associated with PCD, but it was not a major predictor (which was also the case in the study of women). Childhood sexual abuse was also linked to PCD but, again, as for women, it was a minor factor in explaining the results. For the men, sexual dysfunction was implicated in some cases, but it certainly wasn’t a major risk factor. Exactly what accounts for PCD in many people is not clear. It has been suggested that, for some, at least, the symptoms might be caused by the fall in levels of endorphins and certain hormones that peaked during orgasm.
As the first study to show that men do experience PCD, this work challenges common assumptions about sex always being pleasurable for men, the researchers say. “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 [the] human sexual response,” Maczkowiack and Schweitzer write.