As we enter the Lenten season, many of us are considering the spiritual consequences of our consumption habits. Many people give up the foods they most enjoy – meat, sweets, alcohol, and coffee. The difficulty of surrendering our habits, even temporarily, reminds us of the weaknesses of which our flesh is prone. We hope that by denying ourselves the pleasures of the flesh, we can pay more attention to matters of the spirit. How do we treat ourselves and our loved ones? What are we doing to alleviate the pain of the less fortunate? In this time of introspection, we must also consider the consequences of our sexual habits as well.
In a recently reviewed survey among young Australian women, almost thirty percent admitted to feelings of sadness, restlessness and irritability immediately following sex. The results are notable, in that previous studies done on the subject suggested something quite different -- that both men and women experience feelings of relaxation and satisfaction following intercourse. Why the different results this time?
The researchers believe “emotional characteristics” unique to the women themselves might be to blame. Another obvious contributor to the sadness could be a history of sexual abuse, although the study controlled for this to some extent, and determined that such a history was a moderate factor at best.
So what accounts for the post-coital sadness?
In a sense this is nothing new. As far back as the Greeks, people noted that the passion and ardor that gave rise to sexual attraction, often resulted in disappointment after the act had been consummated. According to Aristotle, “as a general rule the result of intercourse is exhaustion and weakness rather than relief.” Of course, Aristotle was referring to men, and not women.
What is it about sex that makes women sad? I recently spoke to a young woman, who also happens to be a gynecologist, about the Australia study. Her answers were illuminating, though not in the way one might expect. She did not offer a medical explanation, but implied that the reasons might be primarily social or cultural. “Most women, she explained, “have been raised to believe that sex is dirty and taboo.” In other words, the post-coital sadness stems from feelings of shame.