Urban Dictionary describes it well: “The feeling after an orgasm.” Simple and to the point, afterglow is the warm, fuzzy feeling that engulfs you post coitus.
Another definition of afterglow references psychedelic drugs that gives one a “sense of fulfillment, completeness, and a general well-being.” Sex, like mind-altering drugs, can have the same content 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 that, “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 that, “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 study, couples who had sex four times a week were emotionally content with their relationship since the afterglow lasts for two days afterwards.
When I asked 27 year old Derrick* what afterglow feels like for him, he said, “I immediately want to fall asleep. Cliche, 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 hours bit? For most people that I talked to, they cannot accurately say how long they feel a sense of afterglow because they never considered it to be an accurate 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, David Ludden Ph.D wrote an article in response to the Psychological Science study that claims that the quality of sex is the most important aspect. He wrote that, “…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 that 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 where 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 that sex does enhance mood. Feelings of focus, energy, and closeness are other characteristics that 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 afterwards.
As if we needed any more encouragement to jump into bed with our partners?