Crying After Sex Is More Common Than You Think

Photo credit: lzf - Getty Images
Photo credit: lzf - Getty Images

From Oprah Magazine

Sex can be an emotionally-intense experience—no matter how close you are with your sexual partner, the very act involves a degree of vulnerability. (You did just see each other naked, after all). And if you've ever found yourself fighting back tears in the breathless aftermath, you're not alone. There are even several terms for the phenomenon: Post-sex crying is also known as postcoital dysphoria (PCD), postcoital tristesse ("tristesse" is the French word for melancholy or sadness), or more plainly, post-sex blues. But what causes someone to get sad after sex? We asked some experts to break it down for us.

Is crying after sex normal?

Well, it isn't abnormal. There's no set definition of the appropriate intensity of feelings to have during an intimate encounter, and that applies to both positive and negative emotions.

"Human emotion runs the gamut, and the swath of 'normal' is vast and wide," says Laura Petiford, a marriage and family therapist based in Connecticut. While bursting into tears in bed might make for an awkward moment (particularly if the person you're with isn't your spouse or serious partner), it doesn't necessarily mean something is wrong with you.

"When assessing your own experience, it’s important to consider whether or not it's interfering with your relationship, or making you feel badly in general before drawing any conclusions," Petiford adds.

Do men cry after sex, too?

Yes. "There is a dearth of information around the subject of crying after sex, and it needs further research to be conclusive," Petiford says. "But what we do know is that the occurrence is a common one for both women and men."

What little research there is does suggest it's happened to a hefty chunk of the population. According to one 2015 study surveying 230 college-age women, 46 percent reported at least one instance of crying after sex in their lifetime. Another study including 1,208 men in 2018 also saw 41 percent of subjects reporting at least one post-sex cry, with just over 20 percent experiencing it in the previous four weeks.

Why do people cry after sex?

It's often less about what went down during your between-the-sheets session and more about what went on beforehand—sometimes even years before.

"Sex may be the trigger for the tears, but it’s not necessarily about sex," Petiford says. "Some of the factors that correlate with PCD include a disturbance of early bonding experiences with caregivers, difficulty developing a strong sense of self, struggling to regulate emotions, a history of sexual or other abuse, or relationship dissatisfaction."

These negative past experiences often surface when Petiford is counseling a client experiencing anxiety or depression, she says. According to the landmark Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES), two-thirds of adults have had to face a major hurdle in childhood that can affect their physical and emotional health later on. Crying after sex may be your subconscious announcing you've got something to unearth and process.

It can be a sign of trouble in your relationship.

There are, however, times when the tears truly are about what just happened, and who you're sharing the bed with.

According to Claudia Six, clinical sexologist, relationship coach and author of Erotic Integrity, a cry that bubbles up "can be due to engaging in sex that didn’t feel good to her, physically or emotionally—or maybe she’s not with the partner she’d like to be with."

The biggest sign that you might be mourning your relationship with after-sex sobs is if you've been plagued with doubts outside the bedroom, too.

A happy cry after orgasm is something to celebrate.

Call it "crymaxing," if you will. (Scrubs fans who know that reference already do.) A powerful orgasm can move someone to overwhelmed tears—particularly when it happens with someone you feel a strong connection with.

"Crying after an intense orgasmic release is a great reason to cry," says Six. "It may just be an additional release of energy, or joy and gratitude at having had such an ecstatic feeling. You can feel out of control, but it’s a release of tension." She compares it to having a laughing fit following a stressful situation.

Petiford agrees. "If you had a bad breakup in the past, waited a long time before finding a suitable mate and then happened upon a delightful person with whom you had great sex, post coital tears would make perfect sense."

When does crying after sex become a serious issue?

Again, there is no baseline for normal. If you and the person you're having sex with feel fine about the occasional crying bout, there's no actual issue to address.

Six is inclined to say there's no such thing as "too often," especially when it's post-climax. But if the tears come with strong feelings of unhappiness, Six says it's time to discuss it with a therapist.

"The postcoital calculus is complicated," Petiford says of the how-much-is-too-much question. "But if you're sad more days then not for a few weeks, preoccupied with the experience, or find your relationship is negatively impacted, these are signs that support could be helpful."

While, as Petiford puts it, "sometimes a tear is just a tear," she urges people experiencing PCD to be extremely honest about what they're feeling before, during and after a sexual encounter, while avoiding ideas of what you "should" be feeling. Alone or with guidance from a professional, she says, you might end up hitting on an issue that's way bigger than crying after sex, and finding healthy new ways to address it.

"If there's trauma in the past that needs to be healed, the tears could be a guidepost to getting help that leads to the more contented and satisfying life you deserve."

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