Have you ever looked at something you know is objectively “gross” and found that you’re a little ... turned on? Read on if this sounds familiar to you. Because, you know what? It’s a lot more common than you think.
When we’re turned on, the part of our brain that registers disgust and fear tends to switch off. Things that we may register as gross, scary, or weird when we’re in a resting state take on erotic meaning once we’re turned on.
This is why people enjoy things like spanking, spitting, water-sports (when you pee on someone) and rimming. In the context of everyday life, these things probably aren’t appealing to you. You wouldn’t want someone to spit on you in the grocery store, or have your partner pee on you while you’re cooking dinner. Well, maybe you do (no judgement), but the majority of people require their minds and bodies to be in a sexually aroused state for these things to be hot and not off-putting.
Pam Shaffer, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, says that it’s totally normal to be aroused by something we’d otherwise find disgusting because of the complex nature of arousal itself.
“Our brain isn’t the best at determining why it’s in a heightened state (aka feeling arousal), but it could be due to a host of factors, including fear, disgust, and fascination with the taboo,” she tells TheBody.
Let’s get into the nitty gritty of post-orgasmic shame, why it happens, and where we go from here.
The Post-Orgasmic Blues
You’ve probably heard of the post-orgasmic afterglow, right? How after you’re finished having sex (whatever kind of sex), you sort of lie there in each other’s arms and feel super blissed out? This happens because our bodies are awash with a chemical cocktail of feel-good hormones like dopamine and oxytocin.
But there is a counter-state that doesn’t get very much airtime in the mainstream media that requires acknowledgement: The post-orgasmic (or post-coital) blues (also known as post-coital dysphoria). This denotes the crash that can take place immediately following orgasm. Can you relate to this? It happens. One study showed that nearly 50% of women experience sadness after sex.
Sometimes we don’t feel the way we think we’re supposed to. The release of all that orgasmic energy doesn’t always make us feel amazing in the minutes after sex. In fact, it can make us feel depleted, sad, or lonely. Lanae St. John, D.H.Sc., a board-certified sexologist and author of Read Me: A Parental Primer for “The Talk”, tells TheBody that laughing out loud, crying, feeling amazing, or feeling sad is all due to the release we experience in orgasm. It may manifest as all kinds of emotions—it’s a release of tension and intense feelings we’ve been holding inside.
Both the afterglow and the blues are completely normal and temporary. The two seemingly extreme opposite states are a great example of how complicated human sexuality really is.
But, if you find yourself unable to move on from the post-coital funk, it could be something more than the blues. If you feel depressed for a few days or weeks after sex, seek out the professional help of a qualified therapist, as this could be a sign of clinical depression or anxiety, rather than post-orgasm crash.
Shame About Sex Can Impact Us More Than We Realize
Data also shows that sex-negative messaging from childhood and subsequent shame around sex can impact your sexual wellness substantially. We live in a culture that finds sex wrong, sinful, and disgusting. And, at the same time, we’re inundated with sexualized images from the mainstream media. Sex is everywhere, but sex is forbidden. The world we live in is immersed in a sexual shame/sexual obsession paradox of its own design.
For instance, think about watching some really “sicko” level porn (I use the word “sicko” in the sense that it’s something we “think” we’re sickos for watching). We’re very turned on by the scene. Maybe we searched for it. Maybe it came up on the endless stream of clips available on free tube sites. We masturbate to it, have sex with someone while watching it, or some variation of this.
And then, there is often a switch; a flip in mental state that changes everything. After orgasm you look at the half-finished clip and are horrified. You think, “OMG I cannot watch this” and have to turn it off immediately. It is no longer hot, it’s bad and gross. This is, of course, also connected to how we associate sex with shame and being a bad dirty thing that makes us bad dirty people.
“When we are in the moment and following our pleasure, hopefully to the peak experience that is orgasm, then we are giving ourselves permission to enjoy and experience; but for some, once the experience is over, our thinking comes back online, [and] we become more consciously aware of ourselves, which can bring about negative thoughts or feelings (even though we have done nothing wrong),” Kate Moyle, a psychosexual and relationship therapist and host of The Sexual Wellness Sessions podcast, tells TheBody. We are in that heightened arousal state, and once we crash out of it, the shame takes over from where the hard-on was.
Untying yourself from sexual shame takes perseverance and a lot of internal and community work. Therapy helps. Admitting something is holding you back from being your true, authentic sexual self helps. We can’t begin to heal if we keep pretending we aren’t hurt. And we’re all hurt.
Sex isn’t shameful. You aren’t shameful for enjoying it—in whatever form you like having it—with other consenting adults, or on your own. It’s a hard message to learn, but as we shift into a more sex-positive future (hopefully) it can begin to manifest. “If you notice the self-criticism, think about where this comes from—question the messages and see if there are any alternatives that are healthier, or if your narratives need updating,” Moyle adds.
- “Postcoital Dysphoria: Prevalence and Psychological Correlates,” Sexual Medicine. October 5, 2015. onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/sm2.74
- “Shame and adult sexual assault: a study with a group of female survivors recruited from an East London population,” Sexual and Relationship Therapy. April 25, 2007. tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14681990600784143?src=recsys&journalCode=csmt20
- “Sexual dysfunction in women with a history of childhood sexual abuse: The role of sexual shame,” Psychological Trauma. March 2020. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31414868/
- “An assessment of body appreciation and its relationship to sexual function in women,” Body Image. January 2012. sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1740144511001392
- “How Men Experience Sexual Shame,” Journal of Men’s Studies. September 11, 2017. journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1060826517728303