In the ever so liberal, western world that we live in, sex seems to always be a hot topic of discussion, especially at University. As a nurse at the health centre once told me, sex is “readily available and ‘on tap’ for whenever you want it.” Not too sure where she’s getting that from, there’s clearly a misconception that University students are some unstoppable, sex driven animals.
I mean, anyone claiming students are highly sexually active, haven’t been living in Exeter for long… walking back home from a night out is an uphill trek within itself- who’s got energy left for sex?
Everyone seems to be so concerned with the action itself, but little regard is ever given to the aftermath. Rarely do we hear people celebrating the awkward small talk that follows after an exciting, or average sexual interaction.
Nor do we discuss the so-called ‘walk of shame.’ Even that person who dragged themselves into your seminar, still wearing last night’s outfit doesn’t sound too convincing when boasting about their ‘stride of pride.’
‘Everyone seems to be so concerned with the action itself, but little regard is ever given to the aftermath’
Referring to the day after as a “walk of shame” is within itself indicative of the short-lived pleasure that’s gained from sexual interactions. Whether we’re all compelled with the sensational feelings derived from sexual experiences, or whether societal perceptions of the act itself condition us to glorify it, we can’t refrain from discussing the downsides of it forever.
The emptiness. The loneliness. The feelings of being disposable and easily replaceable aren’t leaving anytime soon. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that sex is always accompanied by feelings of emptiness, but they’re nevertheless a crucial and unwanted consequences.
What is interesting is that a significant amount of people will still feel sad, anxious, or just merely agitated after not only a consensual but also an enjoyable sexual experience. Such feelings are often associated with ‘post sex blues,’ a term that scientists refer to as Post-coital dysphoria.
By accepting a scientific explanation behind such feelings, we’re able to explain and legitimise these feelings. Research published in the journal for Sexual Medicine in 2015 revealed that these feelings are more common amongst women. According to the research, 46% of female University students who were surveyed at Queensland University of Technology had admitted to symptoms of post coital dysphoria.
This means that effectively half of the women questioned experienced a noticeable change in their mood after a sexual experience. Experts allude to various explanations for these feelings, such as the breaking of an intimate bond between two individuals who were as close and steamy as it can get before they individually reached a level of climax.
For most, sex is an intense emotional and physical experience and once it is over, the bond between two people is therefore broken. Allowing your body to adjust back to it’s previous levels of hormones and activity level can therefore trigger a complicated combination of feelings that may result in sadness or agitation.
‘walking home from a night out is an uphill trek within itself – who’s got energy left for sex?’
Denise Knowles, a sex therapist, spoke to the Independent about post- coital dysphoria and made reference to the “explosion of hormones” that occurs during a sexual interaction. According to Knowles, an orgasm is known to release an excess of hormones in the body, leading to a hormonal peak.
Therefore, once this experience is over, there is a hormonal adjustment in the body, requiring a restoration of hormones. Presumably the said ‘peak,’ during a sexual experience refers to the intense emotions that accompany an orgasm, which would therefore, understandably result in our body’s expectations to adjust to a state of calmness and relative immobility.
Arguably, the increase occurrence of casual sex would also multiply the frequency of post coital dysphoria. The biological process that leads out body to feelings of hormonal readjustment is accompanied by the void of a ‘one off’ interaction.
The novelty of these should die off after fresher’s week, but it ends up reaching third year and everyone’s gold rush kicks in, which presumably welcomes in a wave of repeated sexual interactions and inevitably… post coital dysphoria.
Interestingly, the survey conducted by the Journal for Sexual Medicine revealed that the level of intimacy between two sexual partners did not affect the extent or likelihood of post coital dysphoria.
The overwhelming importance of the biological effects that result after sex seem to override the purpose behind having sex. However, the research does not rule out the increase in negative effects that result from a sexual experience that was emotionally unfulfilling, compared to one with a long-term partner.
Similarly, whilst Knowles acknowledges the biological explanations behind ‘post sex blues,’ there also seems to be an emphasis on the importance of exploring the root of such feelings. As opposed to justifying all feelings of sadness after sexual intercourse as ‘post coital dysphoria,’ or as merely a temporary hormonal imbalance, the sexual act itself should be explored.
Therefore, the consensual nature of a sexual interaction must not be ignored, and neither should the way someone gets treated during sex. Despite the survey’s focus on females’ feelings after a sexual experience, there is a recognition that such feelings can occur to anyone who experiences high levels of sexual activity within a set time frame, or an orgasm, which consequently triggers a boost of hormones to flush through the body.
‘the consensual nature of a sexual interaction must not be ignored’
However, if feelings of sadness persist during sex more often than not, then it may also be worth considering that biology should not indefinitely haunt our desire to experience sexual pleasure.
Therefore, the extent to which specific individuals trigger feelings of sadness or emptiness in us must remain to be a central focus in our sexual interactions, as this will ensure that we are at the very least, happy with our decision to sleep with someone and the way they make us feel.