What Is Post-Coital Dysphoria? Men Suffer From Sadness After Sex Too, Study Finds

A study has found that some men experience postcoital dysphoria (PCD), which results in feelings of sadness, tearfulness or irritability following sex. QUT

Researchers have identified the phenomenon of post-coital dysphoria (PCD)—or post-sex blues—in men for the first time.

The condition, which can result in feelings of sadness, tearfulness and irritability following sex, had previously been only recognized in women.

In a study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, scientists from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane, Australia, analyzed the results of an international survey involving more than 1,200 men from the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Russia, New Zealand, Germany and other countries.

They found that 41 percent of the participants reported experiencing PCD in their lifetime, with 20 percent saying it had occurred in the previous four weeks. Four percent of the men surveyed said they suffered from PCD regularly.

The PCD sufferers reported feeling a range of experiences after sex, including not wanting to be touched, a desire to be left alone or to leave the room, and feeling unsatisfied, annoyed and fidgety. One participant described feeling "emotionless and empty", while others described a sense of shame or feeling that something was wrong with them.

This contrasted with descriptions of positive postcoital experiences, in which men reported feelings of well-being, satisfaction, contentment and closeness to their partner. The results indicate that the male sexual experience could be far more varied and complex than previously thought, according to the researchers.

Research into the human sexual response cycle has tended to focus on the first three phases—excitement, plateau and orgasm. The last phase, known as resolution, when PCD occurs, has not received nearly as much attention and, therefore, is poorly understood.

The common view is that males and females experience a range of positive emotions following consensual sexual activity. But what research there has been into the resolution phase has shown, among other things, that many women have experienced PCD at least once in their lifetime.

"We had conducted research on PCD in women, and the findings on the percentage of women who experience PCD seemed robust," Robert Schweitzer, an author of the latest study from QUT's School of Psychology and Counselling, told Newsweek in an email. "And yet there were no similar studies relating to men."

"As a clinical psychologist working with both men and women, I had seen evidence of something similar in males, which again is counterintuitive, especially given the dominant cultural beliefs (or silence) round the experience of males," Schweitzer said. This anecdotal evidence is what prompted Schweitzer and his colleagues to investigate PCD in men.

The researchers note that PCD has the potential to negatively affect the interactions between individuals after sex. Previous studies have found that couples who engage in talking, kissing and cuddling after sex report greater sexual and relationship satisfaction, highlighting the importance of the resolution phase for bonding and intimacy, according to Schweitzer.

"So, the negative affective state which defines PCD has potential to cause distress to the individual, as well as the partner, disrupt important relationship processes, and contribute to distress and conflict within the relationship, and impact upon sexual and relationship functioning," he said in a statement.

Furthermore, Schweitzer suggests that men—particularly those in Western cultures—face a range of expectations and assumptions about their preferences, performance and experience of sexual activity.

"These assumptions are pervasive within masculine subculture and include that males always desire and experience sex as pleasurable," he said. "The experience of PCD contradicts these dominant cultural assumptions about the male experience [of] sexual activity and of the resolution phase."

PCD is still not well understood, although the researchers speculate that there are several factors, both biological and psychological, that could be causing it. Nevertheless, the new findings may enable the development of therapies that could be offered to those who experience the condition.

This article has been updated to include additional comments from Robert Schweitzer.