Illustration by Ashley Goodall
"It's understandable that one release could trip over into another."
In the immortal words of R&B ingénue Brandy Rayana Norwood, "Have you ever loved somebody so much it makes you cry?"
If so, you are far from alone. Studies suggest nearly half of all women experience post-coital crying at least once in their lives, with some reporting (often inexplicable) tears during or after sex several times per month.
The medical term for crying after sex is "Post-Coital Dysphoria" (PCD), or—occasionally—"Post-Coital Tristesse" (PCT). The current available research focuses on women alone, but the condition affects all genders and involves feelings of sadness, anxiety or aggression. Generally it's after intercourse, but some people become overwhelmed during, too.
"It can occur with the release of orgasm," explains medical sexologist, Dr. Marie Tudor. "With the 'letting go' that happens with orgasm, there can also be a letting go of emotions. For some people, that can involve crying."
One explanation, says Dr. Tudor, is that sex taps into powerful emotions, both positive and negative. "For those who experience dysphoria, they may be linking into past negative associations with sexual experiences.
"It may be a flashback or a memory of [something] negative."
But this isn't always the case: Dr. Robert Schweitzer from Queensland University of Technology has conducted two different studies on women's experiences of PCD, and the results of both showed that people who have never experienced trauma may still find themselves feeling upset, agitated, lonely or angry after consensual sex. Even when their relationship is happy and healthy overall.
Academic and clinical research into PCD is still limited, but Dr. Schweitzer believes there are a number of potential psychological, physiological and social causes at play. To start, orgasms shake up a cocktail of neuro-hormones in the brain, producing elevated levels of endorphins, the "cuddle chemical" oxytocin, and a dose of prolactin to counter the effects of heightened dopamine. So it's understandable that the human body might respond with a range of behaviours beyond our control.
What's more, many people who experience post-coital crying do so without any accompanying feelings of dysphoria or depression. In fact, it's sometimes the opposite sentiment altogether, which has earned PCD the nickname "crymaxing" (first coined in a season five episode of Scrubs).
According to Dr. Tudor, crying after sex is a totally natural reaction and not necessarily cause for concern. "I just look at it in basic terms. It's understandable that one release could trip over into another," she says.
In fact, as well as being a professional sex therapist, Dr. Tudor has on occasion felt post-coital tears herself.
"The times that I've experienced it, there's definitely not been something to analyse and go back to," she says. "That's a good thing. I know that from experience.
"[So] I don't think it needs analysis unless someone is quite distressed by that release. But once it's passed, if they continue to be distressed, it's worth trying to work out what that's about."
If this sounds like you or your partner, Dr. Tudor says, don't be afraid to seek support from a professional. Otherwise, let her parting words reassure you: "It's just part of a whole-body release."
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