Most of us have had sex that’s left us confused, sad, or anxious. Sex is a vulnerable act! And when you combine that with all the pressure society attaches to it, it’s pretty much a recipe for overwhelm.
So even though it’s uncomfortable, rest assured that it’s also common.
Anxiety after sex isn’t a concern, per se, and experiencing it once doesn’t mean it’s going to happen all the time. But if you’re feeling anxious or depressed after sex regularly, you may want to seek help.
In this article, we’re going to cover common causes, what you can do to cope, and when it’s time to seek professional help.
Honestly, it can be a lot of things. And it might be a combination of multiple factors.
To help you pinpoint why you’re feeling anxious or depressed after sex, we consulted Amanda Pasciucco, LMFT, AASECT CST, and owner and founder of Life Coaching and Therapy, as well as Dr. Kristie Overstreet, sexologist and psychotherapist.
It’s a symptom of a mental health condition
Surprise, surprise, depression and anxiety can cause depression and anxiety after sex. These conditions also have a high level of comorbidity: Many folks with anxiety also have depression.
They can also be a catalyst for one another.
We should also note that the post-sex blues can be caused by mental health conditions other than anxiety and depression. If you’ve gotten a diagnosis in the past, it’s a good idea to research how that condition interacts with sex specifically.
It has to do with past trauma
If you’ve been hurt or abused in the past, accessing those more tender parts of yourself can feel scary and overwhelming. Sex or being sexual might trigger the fears and anxieties around that trauma.
You should know that with the right support and intervention, it’s totally possible to build healthy relationships after you’ve experienced trauma.
Hormonal fluctuations are throwing your moods out of whack
If you menstruate, you probably don’t need us to tell you that your cycle can make you feel, well, lots of feelings.
Research suggests that one of these hormones — estrogen — has a strong impact on anxiety.
Lingering feelings of guilt or shame
Most of us have been made to feel shame or guilt around sex. And even if we break those barriers enough to have sex, your body and brain may not be ready to follow through.
It’s important to know that these feelings are not your fault.
“Ask yourself, ‘What did I do wrong that leads me to feel guilt?’” suggests Overstreet. “It’s highly likely you won’t be able to identify logical evidence that you have done something wrong and begin to realize that these are just feelings and not facts.”
Daily stress and worries are bogging you down
Sex is often touted as a stress reliever, but unfortunately stress is also a known libido killer. Stress follows us everywhere, even into the bedroom!
If you’re feeling anxious or depressed after sex, take a minute to think about what’s going on in your life right now. Are there stressors that may be weighing on your mind?
Blame the alcohol or cannabis
As for alcohol, it’s a depressant (and why your friend always gets so weepy-drunk.)
“Accept that mood-altering substances like cannabis and alcohol will affect your emotions, especially post-sex,” says Overstreet. Both doctors suggest decreasing your alcohol or cannabis use if the anxiety continues.
Post-coital dysphoria (PCD), also known as post-coital tristesse, can be defined as “inexplicable feelings of tearfulness, sadness, and/or irritability” after a sexual encounter.
Anxiety or depression after sex isn’t always caused by PCD, but it can be.
Though we don’t know what causes PCD, it appears to be pretty common. One 2015 survey reported that 46 percent of the 233 female respondents had experienced it, while a different study found 41 percent of the male respondents had.
According to Pascuicco, these are some other signs that may signify PCD:
- shortness of breath (different from being out of breath)
- elevated heart rate
- genitals “shutting down” or not responding after adequate stimulation
- vaginal dryness or irritation
- overanalyzing (questioning “what could I have done better?”)
If you have a fear of intimacy it might be hard for you to get close to other people, whether in terms of emotional intimacy or being physically close with them.
All sort of things can cause and contribute to a fear of intimacy, including mental health conditions and how you were raised.
It’s common for people with a fear of intimacy to put up walls in relationships to protect themselves. Maybe you have a habit of self-sabotaging relationships before you get too attached. Or maybe you refuse to talk about anything that will make you too emotional.
If you experience fear of intimacy, the vulnerable nature of sex could definitely cause you to feel anxious or sad afterward. Especially if you haven’t addressed the root causes of your fear.
If you’re curious about whether you’re experiencing fear of intimacy, this questionnaire was created just for you.
Maybe it’s not you. Maybe it’s your partner.
If we don’t feel safe with someone, often it’s hard to fully relax and enjoy sex.
Feeling unsafe isn’t only about physical safety. Take into account whether your partner makes you feel safe emotionally and psychologically as well.
According to Overstreet, look out for the following signs of an unsupportive partner:
- They says things that cause you to feel bad about yourself or your body.
- They don’t respect your boundaries before, during, or after sex.
- They’re self-centered, only focused on pleasing themselves, and don’t take time to tend to your desires and needs.
We’re glad you asked because, left unchecked, these feelings may impact how you feel about sex, and your relationship with yourself and others.
Here are some strategies to help you cope:
Use breathing and grounding techniques
If you’re experiencing anxiety after sex, in the moment, try recentering and bringing yourself back to your body by checking in with your senses.
“Focus on being present in the moment by using the 5 Senses Scan (sight, smell, touch, sound, taste),” says Pascuicco.
Come up with a safe word
While this is typically used in a BDSM context, safe words (verbal and nonverbal!) can be powerful tools for signaling you’re uncomfortable without having to fully say so.
It can stop you from feeling helpless during sex without having to explain yourself.
Don’t keep your partner in the dark
It may be uncomfortable to talk about your anxiety, but getting it out can help you find solutions to your problems.
When you talk to your partner, Pascuicco suggests approaching them in a way that doesn’t feel accusatory: “Notice your timing, your tone, and the way in which you are speaking.”
She also suggests using “I” statements and letting them know exactly what you were experiencing in the moment.
Voice your needs
“Learn what you like and don’t like during sex so that you can voice this to your partner,” says Overstreet. “Feeling confident about your needs, preferences, and desires helps you feel more empowered which can lead to a decrease in post-sex anxiety.”
Don’t pressure yourself to have sex when you’re not feeling it
Anxiety and depression can be draining. It’s important to be patient with yourself in those moments, says Overstreet.
“Pay attention to your body; don’t pressure yourself to have sex if you are feeling disconnected,” she says.
Common in the BDSM community, aftercare is a post-sex wind-down routine where you care for one another by being intimate in some way. This might look like snuggling, debriefing, or cooking food for one another.
Setting a self-care routine post-sex can be very helpful in decreasing your anxiety, says Overstreet.
Follow sex-positive accounts on social media
One way to combat ingrained guilt and shame about sex is to fill your feed with sex positivity!
Don’t know where to start? Try some of these:
“Explore any expectations you have about yourself, your body, your partner, and your relationship,” says Overstreet. Why? Sometimes we have ideas about how things are supposed to go as opposed to how they will go.
Are you feeling like they have to perform above and beyond? Are you comparing yourself to your partner’s exes? Reflect on these possibilities.
We love therapy here at Greatist and think pretty much anyone can benefit from it. And if your post-sex anxiety or depression is a regular occurrence, or it’s having a significant impact on your life and how you feel about yourself, we can’t stress enough how important it is to seek help.
Unfortunately, these issues probably won’t go away on their own. A trained professional can help you build a treatment plan that best suits you. But no matter what, remember that anxiety after sex doesn’t mean you’re broken or something’s wrong with you. There’s always a fix once you get to the bottom of it.