How Does Sex Impact Our Emotions?
on Oct 30, 2022
Lovehoney investigates the impact of sex and masturbation on our emotions and mental wellbeing.
It won’t be a shock for any of you to hear us say that sex and emotions go hand in hand. Whether we find ourselves utterly besotted with a one-night stand or walking out with a renewed sense of confidence after sleeping with a sneaky link, it’s normal to experience a rush of feelings after sex. The same applies to masturbation. Plenty of people experience a whole range of emotions during and after self-pleasure, ranging from happiness to embarrassment.
So to understand how people really feel both during and after sex and masturbation, we surveyed 2,000+ adults on the emotions they feel during and after sex and masturbation. We also spoke to sex expert Javay Frye-Nekrasova (MEd) for some insight into where emotions like anxiety or embarrassment can stem from, the impacts of mental health on sex and masturbation, and why it’s important not to ignore negative feelings.
The most common emotions felt during sex
The most common emotion we experience during sex is undoubtedly excitement, with almost half of participants saying they’ve felt this way whilst having sex. Sex is all about pleasure, so it makes sense that 48% of us to feel eager to get a good thing going.
After that, happiness is the second most commonly experienced emotion, with 45% of adults saying they’ve felt happy during sex. Almost 4 in 10 of us feel affectionate during sex, making it the third most common emotion; this is also the only one of the top five emotions that women experience equally as often as men, with 40% of both genders reportedly feeling this.
However, we discovered that men are more likely to experience feelings of excitement, happiness, confidence, and contentment than women and non-binary people. For those in heterosexual relationships, this could be related to the orgasm gap, a phenomenon in which women are 52% less likely than their male partners to have an orgasm during sex. This lack of satisfaction could explain why a higher percentage of the men we surveyed experience positive emotions more commonly than women.
Our survey also revealed that not everyone attaches positive emotions to sex, with 12% saying they have felt tense during sex, and another 8% reporting embarrassment. However, these feelings appear to affect younger people more often than older people.
Feeling tense during sex is most commonly experienced by 35-44-year-olds (15%), whilst embarrassment is the most common for 25-34-year-olds (10%). However, like most things, the emotions we attach to sex get better with age. Just 8% of those over 55 said they’ve felt tense while having sex, and only 3% said they had felt embarrassed.
The most common emotions felt after sex
Similarly to during the act itself, our post-sex feels are that of happiness (53%), contentedness (39%), affection (35%), excitement (30%), and confidence (22%). However, we found that almost one in 10 (9%) have shared that they feel embarrassed after having had sex, and 9% also say they immediately feel anxious.
The feeling of embarrassment is even more prominent with those identifying as pansexual or bisexual, with 18% and 16% respectively admitting that embarrassment is the first emotion they experience after sex.
We also found that while a sense of confidence might be predominant for those that are heterosexual (22%) or bisexual (30%). Gay and lesbian people were less likely to experience this increased confidence. Only 13% of gay people said confidence is what they feel after sex, and this decreases even further to 11% for lesbian people.
The most common emotions felt during masturbation
The feelings adults get from masturbating aren’t too dissimilar from those experienced during sex. The most common emotion overall is excitement, with 27% of people feeling this way. The same applies to the women in our survey group (25%), but for men it’s happiness (34%).
For non-binary people, contentedness is the top emotion felt both during and after masturbation, but it’s more common to feel this way after finishing. 29% of non-binary participants said they’ve felt on cloud nine during masturbation, and 41% reported this emotion after.
The most common emotions felt after masturbation
One thing our research highlights is masturbation’s ability to melt tension away. 11% told us they’ve felt tense during masturbation but only 7% reported feeling the same afterwards - and it didn’t even make the top five.
Getting yourself off is a natural stress reliever. There’s a build-up followed by a release: your muscles relax and that one-of-a-kind feeling of euphoric bliss takes over.
So if you’re looking for an easy way to decompress and unwind, make self-pleasure part of your self-care routine. Whether you keep it traditional and do it the old-fashioned way, or you add a sex toy into the mix such as a clitoral vibrator for good measure, we bet you won’t regret it.
Why we feel different things
To help us decode why we feel the different ways we do during and after sex or masturbation, we’ve enlisted the help of certified sex educator Javay Frye-Nekrasova (MEd). So whether you’re part of the 28% who feel happy during sex, or you’re one of the 8% who has experienced embarrassment, there’s an explanation behind both emotions:
“We feel happy during and after sex and/or masturbation because both activities release happy hormones: dopamine and oxytocin. Dopamine is related to your brain's reward center, and since being rewarded tends to make us happy, it makes sense that we feel happy after sex and masturbation.
“We can feel anxious or embarrassed during/after masturbation and sex for a variety of reasons. Our bodies could have done something that has us feeling that way, like queefing or a fart accidentally slipping out. It’s also common to feel anxious or embarrassed if you are with a new partner.
“Another major reason people may feel anxious or embarrassed is the general sentiment surrounding sex in our society. So many people were taught to be ashamed of sex or that it wasn't something you talked about, so engaging in the activity can be anxiety inducing.”
How mental health can impact sex
Sex and masturbation are influenced by more than just physical sensation, our mental well-being can also massively influence our pleasure and our emotional states during and after. Javay explains further:
“Mental health plays a major part in our sex lives. The brain is the biggest sex organ (well, second to the skin, but you know what I mean), so if your mind is racing from depression, anxiety, or just being neurodivergent, it can show up in sexual activity.
“A great example is people who have ADHD have been known to struggle in terms of their sex life because their attention goes so many places during sex, or even before, that they can't get into the mood. Mental health also impacts our sex lives because a lot of medications for mental health diagnoses impact sex drive.”
With more than one in 10 men feeling embarrassed after masturbation, 13% of women feeling anxious during sex, and 15% of non-binary people feeling tense after sex, it’s evident that we need to normalise sex and masturbation not always making us happy.
It’s important to check in with yourself and take a good look at what emotions you’re facing when it comes to sex and masturbation, so you can tackle any issues you’re experiencing head on. Javay says:
“You shouldn't ignore the emotional impact of sex and masturbation because it is a part of your sexual well-being. Emotions are a part of us and impact everything we do, including sex, so recognizing that and being able to manage your emotions in the best way for you is going to be what betters your sex life. It's also important because ignoring emotions has negative repercussions."
Survey results from a survey of 2,003 US residents aged 18+ conducted in October 2022.
Gender splits are based on how survey takers chose to identify themselves.
Expert commentary provided by certified sex educator Javay Frye-Nekrasova (MEd).