Sex — whether mind-blowingly incredible or downright disappointing — can immediately shift how you feel and then some.
One minute you’re feeling totally meh, then a spontaneous lover sweeps you away, and you’re seeing the world through rose-colored lenses again. Or, by contrast, waking up after a lackluster lay has you feeling like the human embodiment of the shrug emoji. We’ve all been there.
So, what’s the deal? Can we really pick up bad vibes from a questionable hook-up? Are we compromising our energy by hopping into the sheets with chaotic randoms?
I had a feeling it wasn’t so black and white, so I chatted with some professionals to find out. Let’s dive in.
Turns out, it’s a lot more than just being horny with someone you’ve got the hots for.
“We are energetic bodies, and during sexual intercourse, the energy of each partner mixes,” explains Po-Chang Hsu, MD. ”Every sex act is an exchange of energy [because] every sexual act raises or lowers your energy level.”
“Therefore, a sexual relationship isn’t a purely psychological or physiological, mechanical act,” says Hsu. ”Rather, it’s an energetic action. When we have an intimate relationship with someone, the two energies merge.”
It might sound confusing, but a lot of it comes down to semantics — the words we use to describe and explain sex.
Basically, people can describe every type of human connection as an energy exchange. And since humans are sensitive beings, every relationship can affect or imprint on us, regardless of whether we realize it’s happening.
“Although research hasn’t delved into the idea of sexual energy exchange, the concept is quite common in relationship and sexual work,” explains clinical psychologist Carla Manly.
”In essence, just as we can be affected by a person’s positive mood or toxic energy, we can surely be affected in the same way during sexual encounters,” she says.
We may even be able to feel a person’s energy once they’ve left the room — or at least believe that we do — and react accordingly. Known as “emotional residue,” this idea has been observed in numerous cultures throughout history.
“Substantial research — from which we can extrapolate to the sexual energy exchange issue — indicates that people and animals are highly affected by both intimate and nonintimate interchanges with others,” says Manly.
Indeed, researchers from Stanford University concluded that one of the best ways to regulate your own emotions is to start with selecting your environment.
Emotions are highly transferable, and what goes on between the sheets is no exception. Your partner’s mood or energy is bound to have you feeling some type of way.
So, should we be more protective over who we sleep with? Not necessarily. Self-awareness and tapping into your sexual energy, however, are worth investing your time in. It’s vital to consider your emotions when going into sex.
Lena Elkhatib, LMFT, a sex and relationships therapist who founded Essentia Therapy, says that getting in touch with your intentions beforehand is the best route.
“Being in touch with our sexual energy involves a high level of self-awareness and authenticity that’s accessed through mindfulness, acceptance, intentionality, and being attuned to our body, emotions, and partners,” explains Elkhatib.
Is it time to psychoanalyze your last one-night stand? No, but paying attention to your body before and during sex is where it’s at and worth keeping in mind next time.
“It involves nonjudgmentally paying attention to what our body is trying to tell us in the present moment about how we’re feeling,” she says. ”That level of attunement allows us to tap into what’s really happening within ourselves when engaging with a partner.”
Regardless of what your spiritual beliefs are, this level of self-awareness can lead to greater sexual alignment, putting you in touch with what drives your deepest desires.
“By being mindful of our body in the present moment, we may be able to notice that the pit in our stomach is trying to tell us we don’t feel safe or comfortable with that partner,” adds Elkhatib.
”By noticing those bodily cues, listening to them, and honoring them, we’re more likely to sleep with people that align with our sexual energy,” she says.
I’m not saying you’ll never get bad vibes from less-than-mediocre sex, but it’ll certainly make it less likely. Sex can be a powerful force — one that can help us make meaning of ourselves and the world around us.
“If our body is telling us we’re feeling anxiety or shame, or that something feels off, and we move forward anyway, we’re likely to have a pretty disappointing sexual experience that will double down those feelings of anxiety and shame and amplify that negative energy,” says Elkhatib.
Whether you’re into weekend flings, group sex, or monogamy, the type of sex doesn’t matter. It all comes down to your understanding of what you want out of it and what’s pleasurable for you.
“Some people need intimate sex, while others want casual sex,” says Sam Nabil, a licensed professional counselor and CEO of Naya Clinics. “It all depends on what your sexual needs are.”
If, for example, a person wants to have an emotional connection with a sexual partner, hooking up with someone they don’t know may not be particularly fulfilling.
”There can be lopsided power dynamics that can leave them longing for more,” says Nabil.
To help prevent this, Nabil recommends doing some introspective work to discover your sexual wants and desires.
It’s a good idea to celebrate humanity’s diversity, and our sex lives are no exception. Each of us has different needs, preferences, turn-ons, and turn-offs, making it impossible to say that sexual experiences are one-size-fits-all — because they absolutely aren’t.
So, rather than overanalyzing the energy of your partner, perhaps ask yourself: “What do I want out of this, and what is my body trying to tell me right now?” If you’re comfortable with what you find, carry on!
Sarah Lempa is a writer and entrepreneur as the founder of Dang Fine Creative, a digital content agency. In her writing, she covers travel, mental health, business, sex and relationships, along with whatever else is currently inspiring. Her words have appeared in Business Insider, VICE, HuffPost, Lonely Planet, and more. While originally from the Chicago area, she’s called multiple countries home and has ventured across six continents along the way. When she’s not chipping away at a piece, you’ll find her jamming out to groovy beats or riding a motorcycle. Keep up with Sarah on Instagram.