The universe doesn’t always make sense. Good things don’t always feel great. Case in point: For some men, getting laid makes them really sad. But there’s good news, or at least a better understanding of what’s behind this phenomenon called postcoital dysphoria, or PCD. It’s proof that dudes are generally far more complicated that anyone gives them credit for.
It’s been a long time coming. Last year, we told you that psychology professor Robert Schweitzer of Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, was trying to find out why men get PCD, which he was aware of anecdotally but which hadn’t been properly investigated in men. Schweitzer had already researched and identified PCD in women, some 46 percent of whom say they’ve experienced it in their lifetime. Their reasons vary but are related to anything from a history of sexual trauma to fear of abandonment to not getting off.
Ahead of Schweitzer’s call for answers last year, we asked men to tell us why they might get bummed out after sex. Their reasons:
- The realization of assigning dramatically different emotional weight to sex than your partner (you care, she doesn’t; she cares, you don’t)
- Regrettable one-night stand
- Sobered up
- Evangelical upbringing that produces shame feeling
- When you know the relationship you’re in is damaging or bad
There were other theories out there about why men might be inclined to get the post-sex blues. Largely, it was presumed that men, hardwired to engage in an intercourse strong, must feel some essence of their maleness has been lost once they’re spent, and that this realization creates a natural sadness.
But Schweitzer’s research, which came out this week, is enlightening: Some 41 percent of men have experienced PCD in their lifetime, almost as many as women. And the reasons are typically one or more of the following: psychological distress, past sexual trauma or sexual dysfunction.
There’s no evolutionary-psychology bullshit here: Men who are stressed out, have been abused or have trouble getting it up can very well feel bummed out after an intercourse. That’s not shocking. But hey, we can never get enough reminders that men are human, too.
To conduct the research, Schweitzer ultimately surveyed about 1,200 dudes from 18 to 81 years of age from 78 different countries who said they were sexually active. The majority were not religious. Most had been in a relationship for at least a year, and considered themselves sexually satisfied with said relationship. They answered a 30-minute online survey of 14 questions about their sexual orientation, length of and satisfaction with their current relationship, and history of sexual dysfunction (including history of premature or delayed ejaculation, hypoactive sexual desire disorder and erectile dysfunction).
They also answered questions determining depression or anxiety levels, as well as history of sexual abuse or childhood trauma. Then they were asked whether they’d ever experienced “inexplicable tearfulness, sadness or irritability following consensual sexual activity” either in the last four weeks, or ever.
The results: Some 41 percent of men had experienced PCD in their lifetime. About 20 percent had experienced it in the last four weeks. Around 4 percent said they experienced it “most or all of the time.” That’s interesting enough — as noted before, around 46 percent of women have felt PCD, and around 4 percent also say they experience it all the time.
But the men who do so often had a history of sexual or emotional abuse in childhood, depression or anxiety, and more often, hypoactive sexual desire disorder — or a general lack of sexual desire. (It used to be called “being frigid,” and is mostly something you hear about related to women, who make up 33 percent of the reports of the disorder, compared with only 20 percent of men.) They were also more likely to experience premature or delayed ejaculation.
Participants described their own feelings in greater depth, and those who did wrote the following:
…Hard to quantify but after sexual activity I get a strong sense of self-loathing about myself. Usually I’ll distract myself by going to sleep or going and doing something else or occasionally lying in silence until it goes away; I feel a lot of shame; I usually have crying fits and full on depressive episodes follow[ing] coitus that leave my significant other worried, and every once in a while she has crying spells after the act, but hers are rarer. Because I typically don’t want my partner worried, however, sometimes I hold in the sadness for hours until she leaves as we do not live together, and I sometimes have negative feelings which are difficult to describe.
Schweitzer notes that the results show that the male experience in the resolution phase of sex are not always positive, and “may be far more varied, complex and nuanced than previously thought.”
He tells MEL that this sort of research is important, not just because it helps us understand that it can happen to men and women, but also because it helps undo the biases we have about how men relate to sex.
Even though the research doesn’t connect all the whats with the corresponding whys — when asked why gay men were at a greater predisposition for PCD, he couldn’t answer that from the research itself — it turns out that generally, this supports the notion that all men are not, in fact, prowling horn-dogs who will do anything to get laid and who put little other thought into the act than simply scoring another notch.
“Men are not considered to be as interested in intimacy, are responsible for initiating, some would say, don’t discriminate, and are interested in ‘conquest,’” Schweitzer writes. “No doubt there are many other prejudices we have. There may well be support for some of these assumptions, but more importantly, we would argue, these are all generalizations, and in actual fact, the sexual experience for both women and for men is more varied than commonly acknowledged.”
While this research is only the beginning, Schweitzer says it’s a start to understanding what will help men have better sexual experiences, and how we might manage PCD when it comes up.
Schweitzer says at least one woman who experienced PCD benefited from psychotropics to manage the sadness. And awareness alone is always the first step on the path to normalizing any experience. But more than anything, it’s proof that in the end, talking about how we feel and our experiences is the first step toward solving them.
“It’s probably most important to be able to have open discussions about experiences, free of embarrassment or shame,” he writes. “The very act of open discussion around the experience may be helpful. This has been our experience in relation to feedback in response to PCD in females.”
Written by: Tracy Moore