The sheets are as tangled as my thoughts, each crease is a reflection of my confusion and exhaustion. There are too many emotions to count. One breaks the surface asking to be processed only to be drowned out by another one demanding attention.
I have a sex hangover.
Last night, the sex I had left me feeling empty and unsatisfied. There was no aftercare. I got too lost in the moment to ask for reassurance. I didn’t ask for the pleasure I dished out to be returned in kind. As the day stretches on, fatigue takes over and I go through my daily routine detached from reality. My bones feel heavy and my brain is overwhelmed with its attempts to sort through the events.
What is a sex hangover?
Sex hangovers manifest as emotional or physical fallout from sexual encounters. They can be triggered by different things but the result is typically the same. I tend to feel like a complicated mess of emotions and physical exhaustion. In short, a sex hangover is the culmination of the emotional and physical impact of a sexual encounter. With the endorphins that accompany sex — dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin — coursing through your brain, certain people may experience a “drop” after.
“An emotional sex hangover is when you replay whatever happened and feel differently than you anticipated,” explains author and psychotherapist Charlotte Fox Weber. “You might feel worried, disgusted, or desperate. Whatever it is, it’s harder to shake off than the outfit you wore.”
These feelings arising can be triggered by various things. For example, having sex that leaves you unsatisfied can cause a sex hangover. It can also stem from more serious issues, like boundaries being disrespected, nonconsensual kink-shaming, or a lack of proper aftercare.
“Sex hangovers can really be desire hangovers, whether it’s someone you’ve desired or someone who has desired you,” Weber says. “I think that we are socialized to want to be wanted. It’s exciting [at] the moment to feel desire, and feel desired, but there can be a letdown when fantasy becomes reality.”
The unwelcome appearance of a sex hangover can also be the result of physical exhaustion, particularly in kinky encounters.
“Say, you’ve engaged in kinky sex where there was a lot of pain play, you created an incredible endorphin rush as a result of that pain,” says sex and relationships expert Emme Witt. “You may be left with soreness and also experience an emotional drop. In short, an emotional sex hangover can be closely related to a physical one.”
Managing the immediate aftermath
“Be gentle with yourself,” says Weber. “If you got carried away and did something sexually that feels shocking or unsightly now, respect the different sides of yourself. You’re allowed to be wild, anxious, paranoid, adventurous, affectionate, hesitant, and all sorts of contradictions.”
Upon waking up with a sex hangover, the immediate instinct may be to shut out the world. You, like me, may want to bury yourself in blankets and pillows. Our beds are a safe haven and when we feel especially vulnerable, it can be a struggle to leave. That’s okay: Do not rush yourself out of bed. Take some time to bask in the comfort of its softness. But, set an alarm to ensure that the whole day isn’t lost. I find self-isolating in bed extends the hangover as it melds with feelings of depression and anxiety.
If you can, take the day off to focus on intense self-care. Even if your partner did provide aftercare, healing a sex hangover demands more, even if it’s self-care. Set aside time in the day to treat yourself to something. It could be an hour–or three–of your favorite Netflix show. Maybe a mini shopping spree, applying a face mask, or meditating for five minutes. The goal isn’t to ignore how you’re feeling but to create and claim your own joy.
Ask yourself what aftercare looks like for you. Write it down as a checklist, then spend the day going through it one by one. If you have to work through a sex hangover, carve out self-care time on your lunch breaks! Ensure that time in between and after work is dedicated to your own needs.
Try moving your body with some gentle exercise to get those endorphins flowing and rejuvenate your energy. Consider going for a brisk walk or taking a workout class you particularly enjoy. Most importantly, nourish your body properly. Eat a good meal. hydrate as much as you can, and stay mindful of what your body is asking for.
Don’t be afraid to talk it out or journal. When our emotions get the better of us, it’s easy to get locked into negative thought cycles. Instead of cycling through negative feelings that reinforce the hangover, work through and process it. Taking your worries out of your brain and onto paper (or to a friend) can help!
Preventing sex hangovers
Eliminating sex hangovers entirely would be wonderful, but isn’t likely. Instead, we can focus on preventing them. The approach to prevention looks different for everyone because everyone’s emotional responses and needs are different. Remember that sex is a physical activity and your body needs to be taken care of too, as Witt notes.
“Since sex hangovers are partly caused by physical issues, drink lots of water, keep the alcohol intake low, and don’t stay up too late when having sex,” she says. “Engage in lots of aftercare if the sex was kinky. Make sure you give yourself the space to feel what you feel, even if these feelings may be ‘negative’.”
We all have our unique triggers, desires, and needs when it comes to sex. As such, figuring out the best way to reduce the possibility of a sex hangover takes time, trial, and error. Take it at your own pace, and consider keeping a journal to track your progress.
“In my case, I have learned to temper my expectations–especially when with someone new,” says Witt. “If I’m meeting up with someone I don’t know very well, I keep my expectations low. But I’d say that instead of just allowing bad sex to happen, it’s also important to speak up for your needs.”
To reduce the likelihood of an unsatisfying encounter, Witt now brings her own tools with her.
“Because I wanted to make sure my needs were met back when I was having a lot of casual sex, I started bringing a vibrator along on my dates,” she says. “This led to less emotional sex hangovers as I didn’t regret when a lover didn’t really know how to satisfy me.”
What worked for me? I reduced the amount of casual sex in my life. Sex hangovers were far more likely when playing with people I did not know well. I recognized asking for what I needed from a one-night stand often felt too daunting. Prioritizing connections and building friendships first made it easier to establish firm boundaries and ensure proper aftercare. Sex hangovers swiftly became a thing of the past.
If your sex hangover occurred after having sex with a long-term partner, talk it through with them. Communicate so you can prevent it from happening in the future. Treat it like a workshop and get to the bottom of it. What happened that caused these feelings? What do you need in the future?
Now, I only experience sex hangovers if I overexert my body or go too deep into a kinky encounter, akin to sub-drop. To minimize the chances of a physical sex hangover, I do a body scan before sex to determine if I need to say no or take a more passive role in the encounter to protect my energy.
I also stay mindful of my mental state so that I do not prioritize sexual desires over mental well-being. Sex can be healing and feel good, but sometimes… it isn’t and it won’t. Ensuring we are in the right frame of mind before engaging is the best way to avoid a hangover.