Afterplay is as important as foreplay, and dysphoria after a sexual encounter can feel overwhelming. It’s not sex gone wrong, and it’s definitely not you 

Sex is amazing, right? All forms, in all its glory, have a lasting positive impact on all aspects of our life. But have you ever had sex that didn’t relax you, or make you feel happy or content? It’s okay, most of us have been there. It’s 2022, and it’s time we normalise the “it’s not you” part of this conversation. Today, we’ll talk about the other side of good sex — dysphoria.

Medically, this “that wasn’t the way I thought it would be” feeling is called post-coital tristesse or post-coital dysphoria. What it means is that sex doesn’t relax you, or make you feel happy. Instead, it makes you feel crappy, sad, and all the other emotions and feelings you do not intend to feel.

It sounds like sex gone wrong, doesn’t it? However, it’s not. One can have the most amazing time pleasuring oneself and others, and still feel a broad range of emotions like angry, sad, disconnected, etc. after the act. There is no one reason why people witness this, but it is definitely a signal that we need to look inwards. 

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Sex educators worldwide will agree with me when I say that we need to change the idea that sex is just about what our genitals can do. Sex first happens in our minds, and later physically. We each have our own individual sexual script that dictates how we believe sex should go. We have learned these scripts over time through everything we have experienced, say with books, movies, media, past/current relationships, peer advice, etc. 

Remember, how Fifty Shades of Grey became a holy grail for BDSM despite getting all its main facts wrong? The facts may be a bit messed up, but did it become an ice-breaker to talk about BDSM? Hell, yes. Our scripts are only as vast as the dialogues we have, and the experiences we share. If these scripts continue to stay polarised (for example, achieving an orgasm marks the end of sex), sexual routines become mundane and repetitive, often making one feel-the-blues, and decreasing sexual confidence. However, if these scripts are changed according to our experiences, needs, wants, and desires, we intentionally train our brains to learn ways to enhance pleasure and create mindful sexual experiences.

Another beautiful thing about our brain is that it doesn’t differentiate between sexual and non-sexual stimulation; all it understands is how you perceive it. Basically, non-sexual cuddling can closely resemble a full-blown sex workout in your brain if that is what you need at the moment.

Is it possible to rewrite your sexual script and ensure you’re in tune with what you want, and hence not be disappointed with how it goes for you? Totally. Start with what would feel good to you? How can you tend to yourself and others once you have reached a peak, ejaculated, or orgasmed?

The first step in rewriting our sexual scripts is by focusing more on pleasure and intimacy, both of which can be sexual, like genital massage, role play, exploring erogenous zones, mutual masturbation, trying a new position, breathwork, tantric sex, etc.), and non-sexual, like taking a shower, cuddling, flirting/sexting, communicating things you would like to try with your partner(s) or want them to try on you, go lube/toy/lingerie shopping, or catch a movie together, depending on your energy levels and mood for the day. Schedule sex if you think planning is the only way to incorporate and practice more of it. Try to pace yourself with your partner’s speed and desire, and see how that helps you strengthen intimacy. 

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So, how would you/we like your/our endings to look like?

Any typical workout session isn’t complete unless you cool down your body and relax. Well, the same concept applies here. Penetrative or not, all forms of sex require aftercare to allow your brain and body to return to their natural state. Your body is amidst a sensory high, and not allowing yourself/others to have adequate space, time, and opportunity for aftercare can have us feeling disconnected, unloved, awkward, unsatisfied, or just anxious, associating a triggering memory for us in all our future encounters. Sex is a sensual and intimate activity—be it in a long-term relationship or casual. Intimacy isn’t the opposite of “staying casual”, but truly indicative of how responsible you are as a sexual being.

To make this transition of cool-down move in a flow, here are a few things you can try:

  • Catch your breath as you lie down or next to your partner(s). It’s a great way to be present without having to say much.
  • Staying physically close (cuddle, kiss, stroke your partner’s arm or back, caress their hair) is a good way to stay emotionally regulated.
  • Sex is messy, and so is walking to the bathroom to clean yourself. Having a shower or cleaning up with your partner(s) can enhance the physical intimacy and emotional connection.
  • If you or your partner(s) feel tired, hungry, or sleepy, meet your and your partner’s physical and physiological needs to replenish, and keep the blues away.
  • A quickie or a casual situation can shorten the aftercare time. In this case, communicating what works best for you as an individual and a partner becomes important to not feel dissociated after the act.
  • Another great way to feel great about sex you just had is to talk about it, especially, if the act ended abruptly, or if you did not find it pleasurable. Remember, this is about learning. Show/guide your partner(s) about how, where and when you liked to be touched and kissed.     

Sex is beautiful, messy, and imperfect. There is no one way or the right way to do it. There is only your way. There is no end goal. There is no ideal to follow. There is no normal to fit in.

This is your friendly neighborhood therapist reminding you to stop performing sex, and start enjoying it.