Many people feel sad, tearful, or depressed after sex. Postcoital dysphoria could be the culprit.

If you feel depressed after sex, you’re not alone. Research shows that it’s relatively common to experience various unwanted mood symptoms after sex or masturbation.

Medically, feeling depressed after sex is referred to as postcoital dysphoria. It may also include a handful of other symptoms that reflect changes in your mood.

While the specific causes aren’t well understood, mental health professionals have some ideas about why these symptoms occur. It’s thought that past trauma or psychological distress may play a role, but more research is needed.

Post-orgasm dysphoria, known medically as postcoital dysphoria, is a set of depressive symptoms that you may experience after having an orgasm. Postcoital dysphoria can arise following either sex or masturbation.

Multiple terms are used to describe the symptoms, such as post-coital tristesse, post-orgasmic depression, post-sex blues, or simply depression after sex. It’s also sometimes informally referred to as post-nut syndrome.

Postcoital dysphoria is not the same as depression. For a clinical diagnosis of depression, your depressive symptoms must be present every day for at least two weeks. People with clinical depression may feel depressed after sex, but also in many other situations.

Symptoms of postcoital dysphoria may include:

  • tearfulness or crying
  • sadness
  • irritability
  • agitation
  • anger
  • mood shifts
  • feelings of worthlessness
  • fatigue
  • frustration

The symptoms you experience and how often you experience them may vary in males and females, though research is still emerging.

According to a 2020 study, women more often experience sadness with mood shifts, whereas men more often experience sadness with low energy.

This research suggests that women may experience postcoital dysphoria more frequently than men. The statistics vary across studies, with women reporting symptoms between 8% and 46% of the time.

If you’re male, there’s a 41% likelihood of experiencing symptoms in your lifetime, according to a 2019 study.

Overall, much more research is needed to confirm the prevalence and symptoms experienced by different genders.

Language matters

Sex and gender exist on a spectrum. We use “women” and “men” in this article to reflect the terms assigned at birth. However, gender is solely about how you identify yourself, independent of your physical body.

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While a few factors are thought to contribute to postcoital dysphoria, the causes are largely unknown.

More than one factor is likely involved in each case, with contributions varying from overall psychological state to mood tendencies, according to a 2015 study.

Postcoital dysphoria is thought to be associated with or related to:

Some researchers emphasize the impact of abuse on female sexual function and the development of postcoital dysphoria, namely that a history of abuse predicts postcoital symptoms.

Sexual abuse can create complex emotional trauma and psychological distress extending across sexual encounters and relationships generally.

Attachment styles may also play a significant role. A 2014 study noted that anxious and avoidant attachment styles contribute to developing female sexual dysfunction.

Existing studies are partial to examining causes and risk factors in women. Thus, causes and contributing factors in men have yet to be explored.

If you or your partner experience depressive symptoms following sex or masturbation, there are some things you can do to ease difficult feelings.

Talk about it

Postcoital dysphoria can feel insurmountable, and having someone to talk with can make all the difference. If you’re with a partner when it happens — and if you feel comfortable doing so — you might try telling them about your experience. Sharing can ease your burden.

And, a mental health professional can act as a trusted ally and confidant for sensitive matters.

Whether you have a history of trauma or are under a great deal of stress, talking about it can help you process and manage your feelings.

Move to another room

Though you might not feel like getting up, a change of scenery can make a big difference.

This is especially true if you have been reminded of a part trauma, consciously or subconsciously. Trauma triggers can make people feel trapped or helpless, and leaving the room can help you psychologically distance yourself from the trigger.

Do something that makes you feel good

When a low mood hits, it can be difficult to think of something fun in the moment — and even more difficult to get out and do it. If you know that postcoital depression is likely to arise, it may help to plan a fun activity in advance.

This might include:

  • watching a comedy show you love
  • going for a walk outside
  • picking up a favorite hobby

Support your partner

If your partner has a low mood after sex, judging or dismissing their feelings may worsen things. Adopting a patient and understanding attitude can encourage your partner to open up about their feelings.

Talking with them can also help you better understand why they may feel that way and deepen your emotional connection. This can be especially helpful if they have experienced sexual trauma or abuse.

Grounding exercises

Grounding exercises are methods for bringing you back into the present moment. They are especially useful for people who have experienced trauma.

Grounding exercises include:

  • The 5-4-3-2-1 technique, where you focus on things around you to gain distance from challenging thoughts and feelings. To do this, look for:
    • 5 things you can see
    • 4 things you can hear
    • 3 things you can touch
    • 2 things you can smell
    • 1 thing you can taste
  • Hold an ice cube in your hand and notice how it feels.
  • Smell something pleasant, like a calming essential oil.
  • Rub your hands together and notice how it feels on your fingertips and palms.

Postcoital dysphoria can be a source of significant distress — but there are steps you can take to help understand its cause and contributing factors, and ultimately start feeling better.

Talking with a mental health professional can be a good first step to help get a clearer idea of what’s contributing to the symptoms and how to work through them. Though it might not feel like it, it’s possible to heal from sexual abuse.

Looking for a therapist, but not sure where to start? Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource can help.