Q&A: Chemical Changes And Emotional Intimacy After Sex

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QUESTION: After intercourse I feel an abundance of emotion, enough to make me feel overwhelmed. I find that I become shaky and want to be very close to my partner. Are all women like this or is it just me?

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vintage illustration of couple embracing

Photo: sheepbackcabin (flickr)

Sometimes sex may feel very emotional or connecting with one partner, or at a certain time in a person’s life, and at other times it may feel invigorating, fun, lonely, exciting, sad, or neutral.

Women’s and men’s bodies go through a variety of physical and chemical changes during sexual excitement and at the time of orgasm. Specifically, at orgasm, women’s and men’s bodies release peak levels of a hormone called oxytocin.

Oxytocin – The “Bonding Hormone”

Although more research is needed to understand the relationship of oxytocin to our emotions, some people have described oxytocin as a sort of “bonding hormone” in that it may possibly influence us to feel more emotional or to feel closer or more connected to others.

Women and men also release more prolactin at the time of orgasm, which is associated with feelings of contentment or satisfaction.

Prolactin And Orgasm

Again, we need more research to understand the role of prolactin in orgasm, both physically and in regard to our emotions, but it may be that the release of either of these hormones – or other changes that happen at the time of orgasm – may contribute to your emotional response.

Many people, whether or not they feel sexually excited or experience orgasm as part of sex, feel overwhelmed for other reasons. They may connect sex with feelings of love, closeness or intimacy in ways that feel very emotional for them.

Perhaps you enjoy being physically intimate in ways with your partner that bring up a range of feelings for you. Some women and men tear up, cry, or laugh during or after sex. Others smile uncontrollably or feel very sad, calm, relaxed or even excited.

Not The Same For All Women And Men

Not all women or men, for that matter, share the same feelings about sex, intimacy or orgasm.

Also, sometimes people’s experiences change over time or with different partners. Sometimes sex may feel very emotional or connecting with one partner, or at a certain time in a person’s life, and at other times it may feel invigorating, fun, lonely, exciting, sad, or neutral.

Recommended Reading

To learn more about physical and emotional experiences related to sex, check out The Science of Orgasm.

Dr. Debby Herbenick (M.P.H., Ph.D.)

is a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, Associate Director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University and author of several books including Sex Made Easy and Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction.
More posts by this author »

Comments

  • romoto

    Everyone's natural “reward” system is powered by their hypothalamus, which is located at the lower limits of the brain. Dr. Oz calls it the “mind-body conncection,” and anatomy books call it the “brain in the brain.” The hypothalamus and other parts of the brain and body release endorphins (natural opioids, opiate-like substances) into the bloodstream. These painkillers and mind enhancers are the reason for the erotic feelings of pleasure before and during orgasm, and for the effortless well-being and tranquility experienced during afterplay or resolution. These natural endogenous morphine-like substances can fit into and trigger all of the pain-canceling and pleasure-producing nerve centers that opiates such as heroin, morphine, or opium would. The resulting euphoric “high” appears to be the “great pleaser and peacemaker” and explains why the couple may soon be addicted to love.
    Often, oxytocin is thought by many to be responsible for all sorts of responses during the sexual cycle. However, one way to induce the release of this hormone by the hypothalamus is to suckle the breast like a newborn infant. Oxytocin promotes “milk letdown” by relaxing the muscles of mammary glands, facilitating the release of fluids from the breast. During pregnancy, oxytocin causes the uterus to begin contractions that will expel the baby out of the womb. So be careful during late-pregnancy, sexual encounters.
    So after sex, don't fall asleep right away. Soak it all in and talk a lot. It's a good time to ask your spouse for a raise, really! Good luck and have a great sex life!