Crying during or after sex is a scene commonly seen in movies or TV, when the experience is so overwhelming or emotional that the person has to let it out, but it can happen in real life too. It can be confusing, and maybe even a little bit shocking, to have that response from being intimate with someone, but it's helpful to understand and ask yourself: Why do some people cry during sex? According to Dr. Jenni Skyler, certified sex therapist, sexologist, and licensed marriage and family therapist for AdamEve.com, this is a common question, because it happens a lot more than you'd think. "It's not uncommon to cry during sex, or more commonly, after," Skyler tells Elite Daily. "There is some research that shows that up to 45% of people have experienced tears, with up to 4% experiencing this on a regular basis."
It's one thing to know it's common, and another to understand why it's happening to you or your partner. The cause may be obvious in some cases, but in others, it can be a bit more complicated. According to Candice Smith, sexual intimacy coach and co-founder of The KinkKit, there can be several simultaneous explanations. "As a survivor and sex educator who has commonly cried during sexual intimacy, I can say both academically and from personal experience that emotional releases during sex — specifically, crying — lay on a spectrum," Smith tells Elite Daily. With that in mind, here are the most common reasons why some people cry during sex.
1. Emotional Catharsis
Sex is one of the ways our bodies release strong emotions, explains Smith, and so the crying may be a bi-product of that release. “While we often associate sadness with crying, these can be positive or negative emotions — the one common factor motivating a good cry is that we feel the emotion intensely," Smith says. "Sexual intimacy can be one of the most intense forms of connection with another human being; the experience leads to strong emotions. If you are feeling especially relaxed during sexual intimacy, your body may feel safe to begin releasing the pent up tension or stress you’ve been bottling up.” Smith stresses that while this may be awkward in the moment, it's “completely normal.”
Orgasms can be powerful, and in some cases, Smith says they may relate directly to your tears in bed. “Just as an orgasm builds to a peak and then releases, emotions work in much the same way. Tension builds internally, and suddenly, tears form. In fact, the physical release of an orgasm may lead directly to an emotional release,” she explains.
3. Neurological Reasons
While many of the causes behind crying during sex are a result of an emotional experience, Dr. Michael Ingber, a specialist in female sexual health, says there may be a physiological explanation as well. “There is a lot of cross talk in the nervous system, including the spinal cord and brain, which can cause a number of unusual reactions during sexual relations,” Ingber tells Elite Daily. “The nerve fibers for pain, for example, travel in a location called the lateral spinothalamic tract. Interestingly, this is also the location of the nerve fibers that have to do with fear and pain response. There are theories that there is cross talk between these nerves.”
4. Unresolved Trauma
“If you have ever experienced trauma in your past, sexual intimacy can bring that up again and lead to tears. Something as small as a touch can be triggering,” warns Smith. If that resonates for you, she suggests getting some help from a professional psychologist to heal that trauma. “Additionally, if you can isolate the trigger, consider sharing as much as you are comfortable with your partner, and discuss healthy safe-words or set boundaries around touch,” she advises.
5. Physical Pain
Another reason some people cry during sex is a fairly straightforward one: pain. In some cases, the pain can be a result of consensual rough play, and if so, tears can be expected, explains Smith. “However, if you are crying because of the pain that you didn’t ask for — stop immediately and tell your partner. They cannot read your mind and may not know what hurt you in the first place,” she says.
Dr. Skyler says crying may be a sign of painful sex that is not part of your sex play. “This is more common in women who experience pelvic floor pain — most commonly dyspareunia or vaginismus,” she says. “If [the] vagina closes off and the penetration of a penis, toy, or finger is difficult, this can be very painful.” If that's the case, Dr. Skyler says not to ignore it or try to endure it to make your partner happy. “Tears and crying in this situation need to be taken seriously and with the utmost compassion. What is the body telling us? Can we listen and honor what needs to happen next — which may mean more lube, slow down, [or] stop altogether?" she asks.
Unfortunately, we are all too often conditioned to feel shameful about sex, and these messages can lead to crying during intimacy for some people, says Dr. Skyler. “This person may have learned that sex is bad, a sin, dirty, or wrong," she explains. “Whatever the negative message, it's important to give yourself the permission for the tears and crying. They are a symbol of grief. If these tears are about shame, it's important to both feel the grief and allow it space, as well as deconstruct the negative and irrational belief behind it."
7. Sensory Overstimulation
If you have ever cried during sex because you simply felt overwhelmed by the whole experience, Smith says that what you are feeling is Diffuse Physiological Arousal. “The amygdala in the brain controls our fight or flight (or faint or freeze) response, and when it reaches critical overload, it doesn’t know how to differentiate from fear or extreme excitement. A common physiological reaction to sensory overload? Tears,” she explains. “In these moments, breathe to slow your heart rate. Direct your partner to slow their touch. If, after a few moments, you feel you need to stop, do so — or just continue at a slower pace,” she advises.
If any of the above resonates with you, Smith suggests talking with your partner about what's causing the tears. “Seeing a partner crying and vulnerable during an intimate moment can be confusing and even worrisome for the other partner, so being open will help lead to understanding," she says. "As a frequent ‘emotional releaser’ during sexual intimacy myself, positive releases are now normal and unspoken between myself and my partner. Sometimes we even laugh about them. However, we immediately discuss negative emotional releases."
Perhaps the most important takeaway here is one that all of the experts stressed time and time again: There is nothing to be ashamed of if you cry during sex. But, if you feel that it's a sign of a larger or deeper issue, don't be afraid to speak to a therapist or counselor about it. They are there to help.