Maybe you had good, consensual sex, and you felt fine at first. But then, as you lay there afterward, you couldn’t stop worrying about what just happened, what it meant, or what was going to happen next.
Or maybe you felt anxious about something that was in no way related to the sex you just had, but for some reason, that was all your brain wanted to think about.
Then, before you knew it, your anxiety completely took over the moment and your thoughts were racing. Maybe you even had a panic attack.
You’re not the only person this has happened to.
Whatever your feelings, know that they’re totally valid. You aren’t imagining them, and you aren’t “weird” for having them.
Post-sex anxiety is a real thing and is actually pretty common. People of all genders can be affected by it.
Not only that, but it can happen both during and after any form of physical intimacy — not just sex.
Post-coital dysphoria (PCD) — also known as postcoital tristesse (PCT) — is a condition that can cause feelings of sadness, agitation, and crying after intercourse. It can also cause feelings of anxiety.
PCD can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 hours, and it can happen with or without orgasm.
While research on this is somewhat limited, it can affect any gender or sexual orientation. It may also be pretty common.
If you’re experiencing PCD, you might feel anxious, sad, or a combination of both. You might feel different things at different times, too.
When you have sex, a number of different hormones surge through your body, including dopamine and oxytocin. If you orgasm, other hormones are released too, such as prolactin.
All together, these hormones can cause some pretty intense emotions.
After sexual activity ends, these hormone levels drop. This can cause some unexpected emotions — notably anxiety.
Many researchers think these hormonal fluctuations could play a role in causing PCD.
Your feelings about the relationship
If you have unresolved issues, fears, or worries about your relationship, sex can bring them up and make you feel overwhelmed — especially with all those hormones.
This can be the case, too, if you don’t have much history with your partner. All that uncertainty and “newness” can bring up feelings of anxiety.
Your feelings about sex and your body
Lots of people have complex feelings and anxieties around sex.
Maybe you have an idea of what sex should look like, or how it should go, or you’re uncomfortable with certain positions.
Maybe you’re worried about your ability to “perform.”
Sometimes people feel guilt or shame around sex, and it’s hard to leave those feelings outside the bedroom.
It can also be hard to forget about any body image issues you may have, and it’s definitely possible to feel anxious about being seen naked.
All of these feelings are incredibly common, and they can easily lead to anxiety after a sexual encounter.
General anxiety and stress
Do you have a lot going on in your life right now? If you’re feeling generally anxious or stressed in your day to day, it can be hard to really put that aside.
You may think you’ve let it go in the moment, but your body might just be going through the motions, leading it to well back up when you’re done.
If you live with an anxiety disorder or depression, you might also be more likely to experience symptoms of PCD — including anxiety.
Past trauma or abuse
If you’re a survivor of sexual assault or abuse, certain ways of being touched or positions can be triggering.
It can even subconsciously bring up feelings of vulnerability, fear, and anxiety.
First, take a deep breath — or several. When you’re feeling anxious, it’s easy to hyperventilate.
If you know breathing exercises, those can help, but if you don’t, that’s okay.
Just focus on inhaling and exhaling to try to calm your mind and slow your racing thoughts.
If your anxiety is making your thoughts race about worst-case scenarios and you can’t stop it, try calming yourself by focusing on the present, instead of whatever your brain is worrying about.
For example, one trick that might help is to follow the 3-3-3 rule:
- Start by naming 3 things in your head that you see in front of you.
- Then, name 3 things you hear.
- End by moving 3 parts of your body.
Another way of bringing your thoughts back to where you are in the present is to ask yourself some basic questions to assess your needs right now:
- Am I safe?
- What is happening right now?
- Is there something I need to do right now?
- Is there some place I’d rather be?
- Can my partner do something right now to help me feel better?
If you want to and you’re able to, tell your partner what’s going on and talk to them about what’s bothering you.
Sometimes, talking out your anxieties can help you feel less alone with your fears. It can also help you fact-check whatever your mind is worried about.
If you’d rather be alone, that’s okay too.
Once you’ve had some time to regain your composure, try to take stock of the reasons you could be feeling anxious so you can make a plan for what to do next.
Here are some good questions to ask yourself:
- Was there something specific that my partner did to trigger these feelings, or did these feelings start when something didn’t go as planned?
- Were these feelings of anxiety about the sex itself, my partner, or something else that’s going on in my life?
- Was I reliving an abusive or traumatic event?
- Were my feelings of anxiety about my own self-image?
- Does this happen a lot?
If your answers point toward more general anxiety that isn’t specific to this sexual encounter, it might be worth taking a break from sex or talking to a qualified therapist who can help you.
You may also find this helpful if you’re consistently feeling anxious before, during, or after sex and you think it could be connected to a previous trauma.
If your answers point toward specific anxieties about your partner or what you want sex to look like, it might help to think about what you want the period after sex to be like.
For example, do you want to be held or do you want some space?
Talking to your partner about your expectations can help you feel more in control of your feelings, help minimize disappointments, and help you feel closer as a couple.
If you notice that your partner is feeling anxious or upset after sex, the first — and best — thing you can do is take stock of their needs.
Ask them if they want to talk about it. If they do, listen.
Try not to judge and try not to let it bother you if what they want to talk about feels “out of left field” after sex.
Sometimes their anxieties about work, family, or life just well up and they need someone to listen — even if it feels like the timing is off.
Ask if there’s something you can do to help console them.
Some people like to be held when they’re feeling anxious. Others just want someone to be nearby.
If they don’t want to talk about it, try not to take offense. They might not be ready to open up about what’s bothering them, but that doesn’t mean they’re upset with you.
If they ask for space, give it to them — and again, try not to be hurt that they don’t want you there.
If they say they don’t want to talk about it or ask for space, it’s okay to follow up with them later that day or even in a few days.
It’s important to let them know that you’re there for them when they’re ready.
If this happens a lot, it’s okay to ask them if they’ve thought about talking to a therapist. Be gentle when you ask, and try not to be pushy or judgmental.
You don’t want to make them feel like you’re saying they’re broken or invalidate their feelings.
And remember: The best thing you can do as a supportive partner is be there for them in whatever way they need you to be.
Sometimes just knowing they have someone there for them will go further than you think.
Feeling anxious during or after sex isn’t that unusual — you’re not weird for feeling this way.
However, if it happens regularly, you may find it helpful to talk with a therapist. They can help you unpack your anxieties and address any underlying issues that are popping up during or after sex.
Simone M. Scully is a writer who loves writing about all things health and science. Find Simone on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.