Why Do I Feel Weak After Sex
“Your partner’s body is going through all kinds of changes during intercourse — it’s expanding, contracting, pulsating, and so on — but maybe you’re not noticing because your mind is somewhere else. Or perhaps you don’t notice because you feel exhausted after the deed is done.
A new study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that post-sex fatigue could be caused by a number of physiological factors, including hormones like oxytocin, prolactin, vasopressin and even cortisol (which we’ve known for years to increase stress levels). But researchers at California Polytechnic State University say they have yet another reason why you might feel worn down after having sex: Your own mental state. Specifically, their research indicates that if you’re anxious about getting pregnant or worried about impregnating your partner, then yes, you’ll probably experience more sexual exhaustion than someone who isn’t concerned with such things.
The idea that anxiety can lead to lowered libido has been around since ancient Greece, where physicians believed that excessive worry was responsible for diminished fertility. More recently, however, scientists thought this link between stress and infertility had been debunked. The new study shows that it still holds true. According to researchers at CalPoly, worries about pregnancy are linked to lower vaginal blood flow, which may explain why some of us find it harder to get aroused and stay turned on during sex. And while there aren’t any easy solutions, the findings do point toward ways that couples can work together to deal with these anxieties.
“”I think one thing that would help is talking about your concerns with your partner,”” said researcher Dr. Marisa Calderon, assistant professor of psychology at CalPoly Pomona. “”Sometimes just sharing your concerns with someone can make them seem less scary.””
Calderon conducted two studies involving 39 female college students, ages 18 to 25, over the course of three months last year, both of whom were heterosexual. During each session, participants took part in an exercise called vaginal photoplethysmography, which involves putting sensors inside the vagina to measure how much blood flows through the area during intercourse. Blood flow provides information about the healthiness of a woman’s reproductive system, as well as how much lubrication she experiences. Women typically need extra lubricant during sex due to the pressure exerted on sensitive internal organs, especially the cervix.
In the first experiment, the participants completed questionnaires before and after taking part in vaginal photoplethysmography sessions. They answered questions about their relationship satisfaction, whether they felt stressed about their current life situation, and the extent to which they experienced physical symptoms associated with anxiety, such as headaches, stomachaches, and shortness of breath. Then, in a second round of testing, the participants again filled out similar surveys. This time, however, they also rated their level of sexual desire before and after the tests.
When the results came back, researchers found that those women whose scores indicated high levels of anxiety before the test reported significantly decreased sexual interest afterward. Those who scored low on anxiety showed no significant change in their interest levels. As noted above, Calderon believes the cause of this drop in desire is vaginally reduced blood flow. It’s possible that anxiety causes the arteries leading to the clitoris to constrict, which in turn decreases sensitivity and responsiveness.
“”Our theory is that anxiety makes blood vessels narrow,”” Calderon explained. “”So, with our theory, what happens is the nerves signal the muscles to contract, and that contraction squeezes the artery shut.””
While the effect seems small, Calderon says it’s important to remember that a decrease in blood flow affects every single nerve ending within the entire genital region. So, if a person is already experiencing heightened feelings of anxiety, a tiny reduction in blood flow can add up to major distress.
As noted earlier, the effects of anxiety on sexual function have been studied for decades. Researchers often look at hormone changes, particularly testosterone, after sex to see if they correspond with mood swings. For example, previous studies suggest that women who report higher levels of anxiety and depression tend to produce fewer eggs than others. Conversely, it’s long been established that women who experience regular periods tend to feel better overall. But until now, few scientists have looked specifically at how hormonal fluctuations affect women’s sexual response.
In the third and final experiment, Calderon tested her hypothesis by conducting vaginal photoplethysmography on female college students who reported low levels of anxiety. These women generally responded to the test without issue, showing normal amounts of blood flowing to the genitals. Afterwards, they again took survey responses about their feelings of anxiety and sexual desire. Once again, the findings supported Calderon’s initial conclusions; those who reported high levels of pre-test anxiety had lower desire ratings afterwards than before the test.
These results indicate that anxiety is indeed capable of lowering a woman’s sex drive. However, Calderon cautions against reading too deeply into the data. While women who scored highly on anxiety tended to report lower desire, desire itself wasn’t directly correlated with anxiety levels. That means there could be other biological differences between participants that influenced their outcomes.
“”It’s hard to know exactly what’s causing the effect,”” Calderon said. “”We think it’s something related to the nervous system, but we can’t really pinpoint it.””
Regardless of the exact mechanism behind the phenomenon, Calderon hopes that these findings will prompt further scientific exploration of the role of anxiety in sexual function. She’d also like future studies to focus on identifying specific behavioral patterns among women who suffer from anxiety and sex drive issues. If researchers can isolate these behaviors, they can develop targeted interventions to improve a person’s overall quality of life.
For now, though, Calderon recommends practicing mindfulness techniques to reduce anxiety and open communication channels with partners to enhance intimacy.
“”Communication helps strengthen relationships,”” she said. “”And it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, you can talk to your partner about how you’re doing and ask for support.”” ”