Have you ever cried after sex, or been with someone who did? The experience, either way, can be incredibly intense and confusing. Your knee-jerk reaction may be that something terrible has happened. After all, isn't sex supposed to make you happy? But of course, like in all things related to sex and sexuality, what crying after sex really means can be oh-so complicated. It doesn't always mean that your partner is sad, or that they're in pain, or that they're so overwhelmed with emotions that they're brought to tears. Crying after sex can mean just about anything. Broad, I know, but bear with me.
According to Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tears after sex can signify anything from emotional distress to intense pleasure, or, as he puts it, "The act of crying can signal many physical and psychological states." He emphasizes that if this is happening, it’s vitally important to “understand the context." In other words, why it's happening — because the one thing you never want to do is ignore any signs of distress or pain in the bedroom. Here are some reasons the experts say you could be shedding post-coital tears, and, just as importantly, what to do if it happens.
Sex can be a very intense experience, so tears can be a result of what Dr. Klapow calls “emotional priming.” What this means is that sex can “open a flood of emotions that may not be directly related to the sexual experience," adding that these can be “feelings of lack of satisfaction in one's life, guilt over feeling so good, regret over past relationships, etc.” The result of these unrelated feelings can be tears after sex, he says.
Dr. Feuereisen also says that sex, even when consensual, can be triggering for sex abuse survivors. She explains that “if you have not released your secrets and sex brings up all kinds of unresolved feelings and triggers, you may cry after intimacy.” It's also possible that “you may feel violated again and not know how to handle talking about it.”
Similarly, tears can be a result of situations where “you did not want to be sexual and you did not listen or respect your feelings and you went ahead with the sexual encounter,” says Dr. Feuereisen, which is why practicing enthusiastic consent is so important.
Some cases of crying after sex, says Dr. Klapow, are very much about anxieties and shame regarding the present — specifically, “feelings of inadequacy and under-performance.” He explains that “feeling that you are not ‘good at sex’ [or] that you are not a good lover, and that you are fearful your partner will not find you measuring up to their expectations” can lead to tears after the act.
Dr. Feuereisen also explains that crying during or after sex could also be a lot more straightforward in that they might be a physical response to pain. She warns that “sometimes sex can be physically painful, and you feel emotional and physical pain and you cry.”
Dr. Feuereisen says you should “never ignore it if your partner cries after sex.” But what is the right way to handle the situation? Her advice is to first gently ask your partner the following questions: “Are you OK? Did I hurt you in any way? And, what can I do for you right now?” She says you should offer them comfort by requesting permission to hold them, explaining that “sometimes that is what [they] may want.” However, she cautions, “if you are a sex abuse survivor who has not processed enough, you may not know how to say no to being held when/if you don’t want to be held.”
According to Dr. Klapow, “it is very common for a partner to not always understand or know why exactly you are crying after sex.” If you can’t read from their expression what is causing the tears, he agrees that “a loving, caring partner should simply ask, in a gentle manner, how you are feeling, what you are feeling, what you are thinking, and what is making you cry?”
Usually, a partner will be forthcoming. However, if they aren't, Dr. Feuereisen says to “understand that sometimes the partner cannot talk about why they are crying — never push to get answers.” She adds, “It does not mean it is about you, [so] do not automatically assume the person is sad and upset with you.”
While seeing your partner upset or crying after sex can be surprising and even upsetting, you don't automatically need to be worried — particularly if it's a one-off and they are able to explain the cause. But according to Dr. Klapow, “if their response and crying is due to trauma, pain, or distress, it’s time to be worried. Communicate but don’t force it… your partner is in a very vulnerable state — respect that, be cautious.” Dr. Feuereisen adds that if you see a pattern of behavior, it should raise a red flag. For instance, she says “if your partner always cries after sex, is not communicative, [or] leaves — you need to find out what is going on.”
The key to dealing with crying after sex is to approach it with total gentleness, empathy, and absolutely no judgment. The fact is that sex can bring up things that you least expect, when you least expect it. Some of those emotions are powerful and amazing, and some of them can be really painful. Just focus on being there for your partner, and be kind to yourself, whether you're the one crying or comforting a crying partner.
If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual abuse, call 911 or National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or visit rainn.org.
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