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Why Some Men Feel Sad and Distant After Sex

Sex is supposed to be fun, so why do you feel empty afterwards? A new study explains.

Nearly half of men report feeling sad, irritable, and distant after sex, and claim they experience “post-coital dysphoria”, new research reveals. Although there has long been evidence of this phenomenon in women, this is the first study to suggest that the afterglow can be more of a dark cloud for men, too.

“We had conducted research on PCD in women, and the findings on the percentage of women who experience PCD seemed robust,” study author Robert Schweitzer, a professor of psychology at Queensland University of Technology, told Newsweek. “And yet there were no similar studies relating to men.”

Schweitzer’s past research surveyed 230 college-age women and found that and 46 percent had experienced PCD symptoms such as irritability and crying after otherwise pleasant intercourse at some point in their lives. Another sample of 1,489 female twins in the UK indicated that nearly 8 percent of women experienced this chronically, and studies show that PCD could be connected to psychological stress or childhood sexual abuse. Through his work with men and women as a clinical psychologist, Schweitzer noticed that men seemed to report similar feelings after sex, and began to suspect that PCD transcends gender barriers.

To test this, Schweitzer and his colleagues had 1,208 men Australia, New Zealand, the UK, the US, Russia, and Germany complete anonymous online questionnaires about their feelings about their feelings after sex. Overall, 41 percent of men said they had experienced PCD symptoms at some point in their lives, which ranged from not wanting to be touched and the desire to leave the room, to feeling annoyed, fidgety, emotionless, and even empty. Up to 20 percent of men reported feeling some form of PCD within the past month and 3 to 4 percent felt it on a regular basis. Similar to past research on women, PCD was linked with psychological distress, childhood sexual abuse, and sexual dysfunction. How these symptoms are resolved for men specifically appears to be a more complicated process that scientists previously thought.

The study did not compare single men to married men, or men with children, so it is unclear if long-term relationships or the testosterone decline of fatherhood puts men more or less risk. It’s also important to note that people don’t have to have childhood trauma or psychological distress to have PCD. It could simply be a rough comedown from a hormonal surge during sex. “You go from absolute joy and pleasure to being separated. That, in its own way can cause women, and some men, to feel a bit sad. But it’s an organic biological function which happens to a greater or lesser extent to many people,” sex therapist Denise Knowles, who was not involved in the study, explained The Independent.

“It doesn’t have to mean anything sinister is going on.”

Schweitzer agrees that the cause of PCD in men is still not known, and these preliminary findings are mostly meant to identify the condition for future study. However, he’s fairly certain the sadness, irritability, and restlessness after sex are not a reflection of any particular problem in the relationship.

“There seems to be a range of factors, including genetic susceptibility, possible hormonal factors and potentially, psychological factors which we do not understand at this time,” he added. “We don’t think it is about the relationship, but something more complex.”