What Sex Is Doing To Your Emotions, According To A Sex Therapist

Photo: Getty
couple in bed
Sex

Sex is good for our brains, according to sex therapist and neuroscientist Dr. Nan Wise. Part of the explanation for this lies in the connection between sex and feelings.

Does sex affect emotions?

The answer is a resounding "yes." The effects of sex extend to your emotional well-being — and they’re not always positive.

The intimate link between sex and emotions — intimate sex, emotionless sex, and even no sex at all — has an impact on your overall wellness.

RELATED: Fire Up Your Sex Drive By Understanding The Emotions Of Sex

What are the effects of sex and how can it lead to greater well-being?

In a column for Glamour magazine, Dr. Wise explains that more sex and pleasure all around in life leads to increased happiness, productivity, and mental well-being.

For some people, sex doesn’t just lead to happiness, but, rather, a high. Some researchers compare this high to other highs, both natural and otherwise.

So, that would mean that the more sex you have, the happier you are, right? Well, not necessarily.

Research has found that having sex once a week in a relationship leads to greater well-being. But, well-being doesn’t seem to increase if you have sex more than once a week.

While we may not understand why the effects of sex don’t increase the more often we have sex, it’s clear to see that sex can be beneficial to us in many ways.

However, if you’re struggling with a low sex drive or a sexless relationship, knowing that sex affects your emotions might feel stressful.

You might feel like you’re missing out on the benefits of sex. Or that by not having sex at all, you’re making yourself feel bad in some way.

If this is you, you need to know that if you don’t want to have sex, you shouldn’t force yourself to.

Otherwise, if you still want a healthy sex life, there are many ways to increase libido. One of them is to work out why you don’t feel like having sex in the first place.

Sex relieves stress among people of all genders.

Stress can be awful. Not only is your body working overtime to try and protect you from a perceived threat, your mind is also hijacked by worrying thoughts.

Thankfully, there are many ways of relieving stress and one of them is actually having sex.

When you have sex, your body releases oxytocin, also known as the feel-good hormone. When this hormone is released, you feel more relaxed, loved, and at peace.

This is a bit of a catch-22 though, because you don’t necessarily want to have sex when you're stressed.

In fact, stress is one of the most common causes of low libido. When you're emotional, sex can be the last thing on your mind. 

But, despite the negative connection between stress and sex drive, it doesn’t always mean you don’t have sex. In fact, for some people, sex and masturbation is their number one go-to for stress relief.

RELATED: 3 Reasons Why You Feel Sad And Emotional After Sex — According To A Sex Therapist

In my online sex coach practice, I’ve found that men are more prone to dealing with stress through sex. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to shut down, physically.

This doesn’t mean that men are more sexual than women, it just means they might deal with things differently.

A lot of times, the way you handle feelings such as anxiety and stress is determined by what gender roles dictate is acceptable behavior.

For example, typically, having a lot of sex or masturbating is seen as more of a male activity than a female one.

And dealing with stress by crying or talking it out with a friend is generally deemed more acceptable if you’re a woman.

Regardless of gender, using sex as a means of de-stressing can be effective. And once the stress is gone, you’re likely to experience greater well-being.

Sex can make some people feel down.

For some people, sex doesn’t lead to greater well-being at all. Instead, it triggers something sex therapists refer to as post-coital dysphoria.

Post-coital dysphoria is characterized by feeling sad or annoyed after sex or masturbation. Oftentimes, it can be confusing as these negative feelings can occur after a satisfying experience.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Join now for YourTango's trending articles, top expert advice and personal horoscopes delivered straight to your inbox each morning.

This can lead you to question whether you really wanted to have sex or not. Or, if there’s something wrong with your relationship. Or, perhaps, even more worrying, that something is wrong with you.

None of this has to be the case. Sometimes, crying is a way of decompressing after a satisfying experience, like sex. In fact, oxytocin leads some people to feel more sensitive and closer to tears in general.

In my work as a sex therapist, I’ve found that clients who experience sadness and irritability after sex are more emotional people in general.

They have strong emotional reactions to a lot of things and, thus, experiencing a range of feelings after sex is aligned with who they are.

While we still don’t know enough about why post-coital dysphoria occurs, rest assured, you’re not alone in experiencing it.

Sex and emotions live in tandem.

When I help people as a sex therapist, most of my time isn’t spent discussing positions and different kinds of sex toys.

It’s spent talking about feelings — about having sex, about not having sex, and the ones they experience while they do the deed.

Sex isn’t just a pleasurable, physical experience — it’s an activity that can affect you at your core.

When you've had sex, you might feel happy, euphoric, and relaxed. For some, sex and masturbation can leave them feeling sad or irritated.

None of this is strange. It’s all just a part of the complex weave of sex and emotions.

RELATED: Why Sex Causes Emotional Attachment

Leigh Norén is a sex therapist and writer with a Master of Science in Sexology. She's been featured in Thrive Global, The Good Men Project, Women's Health, Elephant Journal, Glamour, and more. To learn more about the connection between sex and emotions, download her free resource A Manual for Emotions.

This article was originally published at LeighNoren.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.