Post-sex depression is a harsh reality for many, many women

Oct 6, 2015 at 6:30 p.m. ET
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Allie was just 21 when she married her college sweetheart, Craig, and while she expected to have some issues that first year, she didn't expect one of them to be sex.

"Aren't you supposed to, like, want to have sex all the time, everywhere, on everything, that first year?" she asks plaintively. But while other newlyweds may be going at it like bunnies in a feed store, it just wasn't that way for Allie and Craig. Well, it wasn't that way for Allie, anyhow.

"Craig wanted to do it all the time, for sure, but I just didn't like it," she explains. "At first I thought we just needed to have better sex, but I was definitely orgasming every time. I enjoyed it in the moment, but the second it was over — boom — it was like 'I hate this.'"

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She describes how rather than feeling the warm, post-orgasm glow, instead she often feels deeply depressed or even angry after sex. Instead of wanting to snuggle, she pushes Craig away. Sometimes she says she cries herself to sleep.

"We joke that I'm the man in the relationship since I'm all about quickies and no cuddling and whatever, but it really isn't funny — for either one of us," she admits.

And this wasn't just a newlywed bump in the road that they could work out, like who should do the laundry and which holidays they should spend with which family. Rather, she says she still feels this way, but she's just gotten better about hiding it. But deep down she worries she's "frigid," or even asexual, and that her husband will leave her over this, even though they have an otherwise wonderful relationship.

"It's something I worry about every single day," she says. "I just feel so alone. I mean who really hates sex?"

Allie may feel very much alone (in fact, she cried throughout our interview), but she's definitely not the only one experiencing "post-coital dysphoria" (PCD) according to a new study published in Sexual Medicine. Researchers surveyed 230 college-aged women, asking how often they experienced feelings of depression, anxiety, sadness or anger immediately after sex. What they found may surprise you: Nearly half of the women said they got post-sex blues at least once in their lifetime, with 5 percent experiencing PCD symptoms a few times within the past four weeks.

And forget theories about abuse (previous or current), loveless relationships or prudish attitudes towards sex, as the study ruled those out. Rather, the researchers said they think this phenomenon is linked to hormone fluctuations and perhaps "served an evolutionary purpose."

This jives with some previous research into the different ways people react to oxytocin. While it's often called the "love hormone" and is said to promote that warm, bonding feeling, a study from earlier this year found that in people with a particular gene, it has the opposite effect, causing "emotional dysregulation" like increased anxiety and fear. Indeed, when the researchers sprayed oxytocin up volunteers' noses, it had much the same effect as the one described as post-sex blues.

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When I tell Allie this, she is visibly relieved. Not only because she's not the freak she thought she was, but also because she finally has an explanation. "So of course if I feel anxious and afraid after sex then I won't want to have it!" she exclaims.

Still, this information doesn't solve her problem and it's clear there needs to be more research into how to help women suffering from PCD. But in the meantime, talking about it is a good place to start. Because for a condition so common, why are we all so silent?

Names altered for privacy.