Reader Question: How Do I Deal with Post-Sex Blues?

by | Apr 23, 2018 | Libido | 23 comments

When sex makes you feel depressed and less connected from the husband you love, what do you do?

How do you deal with the post-sex blues, or getting depressed right after sex?

We’re supposed to feel euphoria after we have sex. Our bodies release oxytocin, the bonding hormone. We’re flooded with these relaxed and happy feelings. Everything is right with the world! But what if it’s not? What if instead of euphoria, you feel more like dysphoria? I’ve had two women ask me that question lately, and I thought it was time to tackle it!

After almost 8 years of marriage we have worked out most of our little conflicts and have an incredibly close, respectful and fun relationship… except for sex. It has been a major issue in our marriage from the beginning. Your intro in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex was the first thing I’ve seen that truly resonated with how I feel and I am feeling hope for our sex life for the first time ever. I wonder if you cover postcoital dysphoria at all? I actually just learned that there was a word for what I experience. After sex, at least 50% of the time and especially if I have an orgasm, I experience intense indifference and disconnection from my husband. It is really a lousy feeling and makes it pretty difficult to look forward to sex. If you have any knowledge about “post-sex blues” specifically I’d love to hear it.

Another reader wrote:

This is kind of weird, but most days after being intimate with my husband, I have an emotional crash and am irritable and depressed. It doesn’t matter whether I was satisfied the night before or not and sometimes it’s worse the day after a good night. It’s like an emotional hangover. Does this happen to other people? Why does it happen?

They both describe it in really similar terms: irritable, disconnection, feeling lousy. And it’s even worse after an orgasm!

Well, post-coital dysphoria is a real thing.

Sometimes called the post-sex blues, it’s an intense emotional reaction after sex that often leaves a person anxious, depressed, unable to sleep, irritable, and more. Sounds pretty awful, doesn’t it?

It’s hard to get a handle on how many married women suffer from it, because most studies combine all kinds of different groups of women. Here’s the problem: When you have sex and you aren’t married, often women feel intensely terrible emotionally afterwards because there’s no commitment, they feel used, or they feel ashamed. So some of the post-sex blues could honestly just be a natural reaction to sharing something so personal with someone who hasn’t made any commitment to you. When we’re vulnerable with those who haven’t earned it, we can easily feel really depressed. The book Unprotected deals with this phenomenon among the college-aged population really well!

But what if you’re married, you’re perfectly in love, you feel safe, and you STILL get this depression and anxiety and disconnection feeling? 

Then there’s often something else going on, and it seems to have very little to do with the quality of the relationship or the quality of the sex (except that better sex often brings on the problem!), and everything to do with hormonal changes.

Some people are more sensitive to sudden changes in brain chemistry than others, and that’s why you may suddenly find yourself depressed after a rush. One neurochemistry blog summed it up this way:

Because orgasm activates reward pathways much in the same way as drugs, it can also produce similar experience of addiction and withdrawal. In fact, people that are treated for sex addictions tend to have other comorbid addictions, suggesting that they have addictive personalities, an inclination for overactivation in this part of the brain (Hartman et al., 2012). This is because after the rush of orgasm, dopamine levels drop below baseline, similar to what happens during withdrawal from drugs of abuse. Low dopamine levels are associated with depression, low energy, lack of ambition, social anxiety, among others (Dailly et al., 2004).

Another study was done looking at how our endocrine system (the part of our body responsible for hormones) could be affecting postcoital dysphoria. Specifically, they were looking at whether there was a correlation with women suffering from postpartum depression and those who report the “post sex blues”. What they found was that there did indeed seem to be a correlation.

In summary, our results indicate a significant overlap of women suffering from [postnatal depression] and [postcoital dysphoria], indicating that there might be common vulnerability mechanism such as sensitivity to rapid hormonal fluctuations that might trigger both conditions.

So post-sex blues can affect women. But what do you do?

Talk to your doctor about your post-sex blues.

Many doctors aren’t aware of the condition, so taking with you this article from the Journal of Depression and Anxiety can show them that it does indeed exist. I would then ask for a referral to a psychiatrist or someone who deals with depression who can help you figure out what triggers it and if there is anything you can do to minimize it.

Be careful when you get pregnant.

If you haven’t had any children yet, it’s best to talk to your doctor beforehand since you are at higher risk for post-partum depression (it doesn’t mean that you WILL get it; only that you’re at higher risk). This way you can be very aware of the warning signs and seek early intervention.

"A groundbreaking look into what true, sacred biblical sexuality is intended to be. A must-read." - Rachael Denhollander

What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?

What if the messages that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these toxic teachings?

It's time for a Great Sex Rescue.

Great Sex Rescue

Do as much as you can to keep a hormonal balance in your body.

Finally, do take care of your hormones and your adrenal system. I’ve written before about how our eating habits, sleeping habits, and cleaning habits can affect how taxed our body is, and the more taxed your body is, the less it will be able to keep everything in balance. Switching to real food, going to bed at a decent time (adults need bedtimes!), getting up to natural light and eating at the right times can help our bodies regulate. If your brain chemistry is off, this may not solve everything. But it can help, and so much of modern life wreaks havoc with our bodies. Let’s help our bodies rather than hindering them!

Let me know in the comments: Have you ever experienced the post-sex blues? What was it like?

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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23 Comments

  1. Kay

    This sounds exactly like D-MER, or dysphoric milk ejection reflex. Same thing, but it happens when your milk lets down when breastfeeding or pumping, which makes total sense because a lot of the same hormones involved in orgasm are involved in breastfeeding. Again, it’s a physiological response, not psychological. I wouldn’t be surprised if those women who experience it after orgasm experience D-MER too. It isn’t always paired with postpartum depression and anxiety but it can be. Hormones sure can be pesky sometimes.

    Reply
    • Sheila Gregoire

      That IS interesting, Kay! I think it’s a good thing to bring up with a physician. People’s brains are all so different. This must be a really difficult thing to live with.

      Reply
      • Nichole

        You must have had much better exsperiances with Dr’s . Anything out of the normal and you are referred to a psychiatrist here in the USA. Doctors have very limited knowledge of anything outside the box.

        Reply
        • Lisa

          I also fail to see how bringing this to a physician would help. They have zero training in this. My friend suffered through the breastfeeding of her five children. Doctors told her anything from “you’re making this up to get attention,” to “hire a babysitter.”

          I would look for for a clinical herbalist, midwife, or naturopath.

          Reply
    • Nichole

      I also had my milk let down . If there was a hungry baby anywhere near by ,not just my own . Let the floodwaters begin. I also have multiple types of migraines and circulation issues. I often wonder if my brain , central nervous system wiring has many affects on my day to day life . For example if i need a filling in a tooth they have to numb my whole head to put the nerves to sleep . Mine are crossed. Many areas most find enjoyable to be touched send shooting pain for me.

      Reply
  2. H

    This may sound weird but I think my husband has this! I’ve not personally experienced it, but my husband often seems distant and jittery after sex, even when everything was nice. So…can men get this too?

    Reply
    • Sheila Gregoire

      I would imagine that they can, but I was researching only about women. But we all have chemical reactions in our brains after sex, so I would imagine that for some, this could totally happen.

      Reply
    • John

      I don’t know about men being affected by this, but after reading this, I can tell you I this, nearly every time.

      But I believe its because I know the following as an absolute fact: without fail, no matter how good or bad the sex was, no matter anything else that is going on: that the next time would be at least 3 weeks, if not 4 weeks or more. And you are expected to not only accept it but be mr-happy-go-lucky.

      When faced with that, how can you not feel depressed, or become emotionally disconnected? I swear, if some doctor came up with a pill that would get rid of these feelings and kill my drive, I would be hooked for life.

      Reply
      • Sheila Gregoire

        Hi John,

        I’m sorry for what you are experiencing! I truly am. That’s not the same thing, though, because yours really is a psychological feeling that is rooted in genuine needs not being met. For many people, though, those feelings seem to come out of nowhere, and that’s when it’s likely more biologically based.

        I am sorry for what you’re going through, though. Really. I have a week coming up in May when I want to address what you’re going through in greater length, and there’s a post coming up later this week that may help you, too. I know there are many men on the blog in your position, and I do really feel for what you all are going through (and I feel for your wives, too, who are missing out on something wonderful).

        Reply
        • Mark

          Sheila,

          Whether it is 1 day, 3 days, or 3 weeks before the next time I’m intimate there is a lot going on.

          First there is a combination of excitement, raw desire of emotional surrender as we are allowing arousal to keep climbing during foreplay and the act of making love.

          The intimacy can be slow and unhurried and the physical release that is experienced when spouses climax as all our strength is gone, is intense.

          The ultimate natural high throughout the intimacy is incredible for both.

          Then suddenly we go from the top of the mountain, then both of us release and find ourselves exhausted, almost weak.

          For most, it is a physical and emotional release that can make us want more, but life’s circumstances won’t allow it.

          So we go from a physical and mental high, to the calm down, then back down to earth, sometimes zombie like.

          Fortunately, the one thing that is constant, is the power of anticipation begins to unconsciously build up as our mind and body prepare for the next spontaneous opportunity to be “one” with our spouse.

          But then, if a man releases his seed too soon, before his wife is ready for him, I can see that creating more of a “let down” making intimate urgency more unbearable for her,

          Either way, it seems when we are intimate at night and make love until our strength is gone, we fall asleep and seem to feel less “void”.

          Whereas making love until our strength is gone in the morning, leaves us a little more tired and sluggish and not wanting to do anything throughout the day. Which can be a downer.

          Reply
  3. Anonymous ;)

    Well that’s weird to see my question on here…. But I can attest that I have struggled with pre and post partum depression AND I’m pretty sure I had issues with D-MER (I never told a doctor about it, I think I stumbled upon an irritability while nursing article and realized I wasn’t alone). In general I try to stay away from extreme happy feelings because of the extreme swing to negative afterwards. It makes sense that they’re all connected. Now I have to decide what to do about it.

    Reply
    • Sheila Gregoire

      I truly think one of the most unfortunate things is to be an “interesting” medical case, and it sounds like you’re exceedingly interesting! I’m sure more of us would long for boring.

      I would definitely talk to a doctor and just see if there’s anything they can do. At the very least they should be aware that you do get these reactions. I’ll say a prayer for you–that must be really difficult!

      Reply
  4. Rosie H

    I didn’t know this was an actual thing, I thought I was just strange! I had the post-partum depression (and anxiety) as well, but as far as I remember, not D-MER; I was miserable when breastfeeding early on, but I think it was because it was painful and difficult and I was depressed and anxious.

    Reply
  5. anon

    Wait! This is a thing and it has a name? I always thought it was just me. Apathy and disconnect, no matter how good the sex was (and it is always good). I describe it as a something getting lost between, “that was nice,” and, “we should do that again.” Or a feeling afterwards like it wasn’t worth the effort.
    I’ve known for years that I’m extremely sensitive to hormone changes of any kind, and prone to depression and anxiety. Those pieces fell into place when I went through MTHFR testing and started treating that, which helped this issue a bit. The other thing I’ve found can help is that we HAVE to spend time cuddling and snuggling afterwards, even if it is just a few minutes. My instinct is always to skip it because I’m feeling disconnected and empty, but that is what helps me feel reconnected.

    Reply
    • Sheila Gregoire

      So glad that this helped you feel a bit validated! You’re definitely not alone. It’s great that you’ve figured out a few coping things that help!

      Reply
    • Diane

      What is MTHER testing and which kind of a Doctor does it?

      Reply
  6. Ashley

    I really thought I was just “broken” or something! I struggle a lot with getting into the mood, but even when we have a mutually satisfying time (especially when?) I always found myself not able to fall asleep, having a tension headache, feeling resentful or depressed… It makes so much sense that it could be a cycle and causing me to want to avoid sex because I know at least subconciously that it will make me feel bad after.
    Thanks for helping me know I’m not alone! And maybe I can look into a way to balance my hormones so that I can reduce these effects…

    Reply
    • Sheila Gregoire

      Definitely not alone! I wish I could have come up with research on the percentage of women this affects, but like I said, the studies tended to lump together very different women, and for political correctness or whatever they couldn’t seem to acknowledge that a happily married woman may react to sex differently than a single woman “hooking up”. I wish they could do studies at least controlling for marital status. But regardless–definitely not alone!

      Reply
  7. Charlie O

    Obviously, being a man, I can’t say that I have had the same experience, but I have experienced something similar on occasion. I ‘d like to suggest two remedies. Cuddle immediately after sex, even (especially)if you don’t feel like it. Go to sleep in your mate’s arms. If the condition continues the next day, grab a hymnal and start singing. I do this when I feel in a bad mood, and if I keep it up long enough, it always works. (I know it sounds weird, but what have you got to lose). It is a principle that emotinal highs bring corresponding lows. Sex can be one of life’s ultimate highs.

    Reply
  8. KC

    I’ve never felt connected or happy after sex, just meh. But after the birth of my fourth, post sex blues were with me for about 2 years. Here’s some things that have actually helped me. You will need to experiment, but things are so much better now, so there is hope.

    Only having sex when I want to, and never out of obligation. If I’m not “ready to go” going into it, I was an emotional mess afterward. When my husband realized what I was going through, he literally put the breaks on our sex life even though I was willing to suffer through it. And of course he was willing to go without as much sex, he loves me.

    Quickes, I think this might have something to do with the hormones not having enough time to get as intense. As awful as post sex blues feels and as damaging as it can be for a marriage if you can’t reach orgasm the old fashioned way from a quickie maybe have your husband use a vibrator. I know people have mixed feelings on this, but quickies were the ONLY time I didn’t have post sex blues for about a year.

    Cuddling and kissing afterward, it seems to slow things down rather than come to a screeching halt.

    No oral sex. For awhile I just couldn’t handle it. It was far too intense of a crash after.

    Get off medication that was decimating my sex drive. For me this was a nasal steroid for allergies.

    Get into a healthy headspace before having sex each time.
    Stress, worry, and general sadness made the crashes so much worse. If I wasn’t in a good frame of mind going into sex I was guaranteed an epic melt down after. This also meant working through all the purity culture baggage from my teenage years.

    The actual sex has always been great. And now things are better after the orgasm too. I’m not sobbing anymore and having panic attacks. I will admit I still feel “meh” after my orgasm everytime but it beats what it was.

    Reply
  9. TD

    I would agree with the person above, try cuddling and being affectionate with your spouse right after orgasm. I’ve experienced something similar and not having that physical touch and affection right after that high caused sadness. I’ve also experienced hysterical laughing on the other the other side of the spectrum after an intense orgasm. I think getting back balanced requires that Oxycotin being released and hugging, pats on the back and things soothing things like that helped me tremendously.
    Also fish oil really helped me after the birth of my daughter (did not experience postpartum but i instinctly think i could have had i not taken it). I read an article about a new mom who did that and i was so happy i did. I really truly think it helped with my brain. (Fish oil helps with a tremendous amount of things, including adhd) Taking it daily is worth a try!

    Reply
  10. Anne

    I really feel like this is the same feeling I always feel during/after sex.
    Untill yesterday I was in a relationship that was sexually satisfying, I never reached an orgasm. But the sex was good.. but during it I just started feeling nothing not in my body or head. An then just started crying. When that happened I just felt a form of depression. It became so bad and intens that we sometimes had months without sex.. I always felt really bad for him that I “failed” him.. and now I’m single I don’t want to get a new relationship until I know how to handle this..
    Because it gets so bad that if I’m fantasizing about sex I somethimes start crying.. I’m just 19 and are experiencing it sinds my first time.. I’ve bin to a therapist for traumas, (but for as far as I know I haven’t had any bad sexual experiences when I was a kid.) So he couldn’t help me further..
    so I literary don’t know what to do anymore..

    Reply
  11. MrsKaren

    Thanks for sharing. I do have a chemical imbalance and it’s being treated. I wasn’t sure what I would find when I read the article but it makes sense and I’m glad that you shared it and it helps.

    Reply

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