Another iteration of afterglow references psychedelic drugs that gives one a sense of fulfillment and general well-being. Sex, like mind-altering drugs, can have the same contented effect on the mind and body.
A 2017 study in Psychological Science looked at pair bonding and how individuals remain bonded after sexual encounters. The researchers found that afterglow is not only real, but can last up to 48 hours after sexual intercourse, and this influences pair bonding. In the study, they looked at recently married couples. They reported that couples who experienced a strong afterglow had a stronger and more satisfied marriage. Researchers wrote that this is evidence “sexual afterglow is a proximal cognitive mechanism through which sex promotes pair bonding.” Not only do orgasms feel incredible, they also do incredible things for our relationships and overall well-being.
Linda*, a 25-year-old cis woman, says, “I always just want to cuddle after sex and be close to the person who made me feel so amazing a few moments before.” She continues, “I think afterglow is a real thing. I just never knew there was a term for it.”
What’s so interesting about afterglow is that you don’t need to have sex every day to keep up the positives of afterglow. In the 2017 study, couples who had sex four times a week were emotionally content with their relationship since the afterglow lasts for two days afterward.
When I asked 27-year-old Derrick* what afterglow feels like for him, he said, “I immediately want to fall asleep. Cliché, as most men are known to do this, but I’m just really content and comfortable. I get the best sleep after an orgasm.”
So, what about the 48-hour time frame? For most people I talked to, they cannot accurately say how long they feel a sense of afterglow because they never considered it to be a real phenomenon. High levels of happiness and euphoria are most noticeable immediately after sex, but once a person is aware of the long-lasting effects of afterglow, they may be more prone to pay attention. Linda* told me, “I’m going to consider keeping a chart of my satisfaction levels now. I know that I miss sex when I go a few days without having it, but I’ve never considered keeping track of my emotions for two days afterwards.”
On Psychology Today, Dr. David Ludden wrote an article in response to the Psychological Science study that claims the quality of sex is the most important aspect. He wrote, “[…] marriages are happiest when the sex the couples engage in led to a strong, sustained afterglow. These findings suggest that relationship satisfaction depends not only on the quantity of sex but also on the quality of it. When it comes to marital happiness, it seems that frequent sex is not enough — it also has to be memorable.”
Derrick explains to me, “When I have good sex with someone, I only want to have sex with that person and no one else. It’s when the feelings of happiness dwindle that I begin to get bored. Maybe it’s other things that influence the mediocre sex. I’ve never thought about it much before, though.”
For future research, the team at Psychological Science believes constant feelings of afterglow in a relationship can reduce the need for cheating. Of course, there are many reasons for cheating (if you’re in a monogamous relationship in which this vocabulary even exists), but it’s still an interesting consideration for couples seeking long-lasting happiness.
For both Linda and Derrick, it’s clear sex does enhance mood. Feelings of focus, energy and closeness are other characteristics the two mentioned to me when I asked about specific feelings post-sex.
It’s no surprise that sex bonds couples and creates a closeness through afterglow. However, it is surprising that sexual encounters can contribute to our well-being for two days afterward.
As if we needed any more encouragement to jump into bed with our partners…
By S. Nicole Lane