Crymaxing: the reason why some people burst into tears after sex
What happens to you when you have an orgasm? The physical determinants of orgasm that are most recognized in mainstream consciousness include moaning, shaking, squirting, roaring. Hell, I’ve even been known to experience the occasional charley horse when I cum. There are those whose thighs shake and those whose toes curl. There are those who turn bright red and convulse, and those whose hearts speed up.
But what about crying? Crying during or after sex or orgasm, sometimes called “crymaxing,” can take you by surprise, even if you’re the one doing the crying. And it can definitely surprise your partner, too.
When we orgasm, our brains and bodies are flooded with hormones, including oxytocin, AKA the “love hormone,” and dopamine, AKA the happy hormone. In addition to the more common physical reactions to orgasm listed above, these hormonal surges can also induce crying. Really, everyone reacts to sex, orgasm, and hormonal flourishes differently.
One 2017 study identified many different kinds of ‘unusual’ physical or psychological symptoms experienced by people as a part of orgasm. Crying was on the list, as was laughing, sneezing, headaches, and even foot pain. And there are even those who experience colors, tastes, and scents.
“Deeply loving orgasms — orgasms that have involved a lot of build up, orgasms that function as a stress reliever, barbiturate, or sedative, or orgasms that you feel ambivalent about — are all examples of orgasms in the context of emotional intensity, and they’re all potential sources of post-orgasm weeping,” says author Emily Nagoski. “Crying is about intensity, not valence. It doesn’t matter what you feel, it’s how much you feel. People weep with joy as well as sorrow. It’s simply the release of intense emotions. Orgasm too is the release of intense emotion,” she adds. Regardless of the reasons behind it, crymaxing can last from five minutes to...several hours.
For some, crymaxing is the result of post-coital dysphoria (PCD), an experience of sadness, anxiety, agitation, or aggression after sex. A recent study by Schweitzer, O’Brien, and Burri (2015) found that 46%of their study participants (all women, although it happens to all genders) have experienced PCD at least once in their lifetime. Dr. Schweitzer had also conducted a previous study on women's experiences of PCD—the results of both studies showed that people who have never experienced trauma may still feel upset, agitated, lonely or angry after consensual sex, even when their relationship is going well. The direct causes of PCD, then, cannot be conclusively defined.
But—let's face it, there are plenty of good, valid reasons to feel sad or distressed when you have an orgasm, like if you’re having sex with an ex, for instance, or are overly stressed about other things. Fact: there are several things that could trigger a sense of unease besides hormonal surges. The release of emotions that have been repressed, for example, misconstruing your partner’s behaviors or intentions, failed or miscommunicated relationship expectations, the list goes on. According to medical sexologist Dr. Marie Tudor, "with the 'letting go' that happens with orgasm, there can also be a letting go of emotions. For some people, that can involve crying.” One explanation she offers is that sex taps into charged emotions, both positive and negative: "For those who experience dysphoria, they may be linking into past negative associations with sexual experiences.”
It’s important to understand that crying during or after orgasm doesn’t necessarily mean you feel sad, though. The term post-coital dysphoria may hint at feelings of disorientation and sadness or melancholy, but this is really not always the case. Post orgasm, your body’s release of oxytocin promotes trust, empathy, and a feeling of connection. And sometimes, suddenly feeling both safe and vulnerable at once offers the perfect setting in which to release any feelings you’ve been holding back, whether about yourself, your relationship, the sex itself, or anything else going on in your gorgeous, artful life. Crying is just one of the possible ways it could go. Or maybe you’re a mad cackler. To each her own.
When to check your crying
If you cry during orgasm because you feel legit emotionally stressed or even in physical pain (sex should never hurt unless you want it to), it may be a good idea to visit a therapist or an OB/GYN to rule out serious problems and/or get you the resources you need to move past whatever kind of pain you may be experiencing, whether emotional or physical. If you’re a survivor of sexual trauma, your reactions may be linked to PTSD, for instance. But—if you’re crying and it all feels good, don’t worry about the tears (beyond having an honest discussion with your partner of choice). Sex begat wet, after all. It’s supposed to be a little bit messy.