The Longevity of the “Afterglow”

The postcoital feeling of deep connection, known as the “afterglow” is something couples can rely on to continue for a long time after the actual sexual encounter, according to a new report. The title, “Quantifying the Afterglow” published in Psychological Science, may sound like scientists are breaking it down beyond an emotional and physical connection, and although it is, that warm feeling (aka “the warm fuzzies”) is also physiological and has an evolutionary purpose—strengthening pair bonding. When the sex act concludes with fireworks (i.e., orgasm), how long do the sparks reverberate? Researchers sought to find that out by looking at data of two studies on newlyweds.

Spouses reported their daily sexual activity and sexual satisfaction for 14 days and happiness in marriage at baseline and 4 or 6 months later. It turns out that sexual satisfaction remained elevated about 48 hours after sex, and spouses experiencing a stronger afterglow reported higher levels of marital satisfaction both at baseline and over time.

Sex is Romantic, but also Scientific
Fast forward from being newlyweds to new parents. Overwhelmed, the new dad is tired, the new mom sore from nursing and may not feel like being touched after putting the newborn down to sleep. Those precious few hours before the next feeding might be needed for sleep or alone time. The amount of sexual intercourse that the couple took the time to have to create their baby, may come to a slow-down if not an all-out stopping point for a while. What’s a couple to do? Discuss. Then schedule sex.

Hilda Hutcherson, MD, a Columbia University assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and mother of four, said, it’s critical to just do it. Your physical connection, she says, bolsters your emotional connection: sex releases endorphins, the feel-good hormones, and also oxytocin, the bonding hormone new parents have, promotes feelings of trust and devotion.

Make sex a priority as important as working your 9-to-5 job, getting out for a date night, and keeping up with the bills. Keeping love-making a priority can remind the tired couple why they are together in the first place, and if they can manage to hold on to that “afterglow” feeling for a bit longer each time, the new phase of parenting life may be more enjoyable and less stressful.

Talk it Out
Are you both on the same page? Maybe not, but talking about the feelings and expectations you are both having, now that your family life is different is critical. Maybe your sexual yin and yang are off balance. By being honest about wants and needs, you may be able to get to a new place. Touch each other through non-sexual moments through-out that day to let each other know, “Hey I’m still here” even if you don’t want to have sex in the same way or as often as you once did. And who knows, the more “you” put yourself out there, the honest ideas you are having, could lead to deeper discussions, more fulfilling interactions, all of which strengthen relationships. Once the infant is on a sleep schedule, sex may get back to the way it used to, and if not, keep talking, keep touching, keep an open mind.

Later in Life
Remember those newlyweds? They’ve been married 20 years and have a kid in college. Their sex life should be as important as it ever was, even with the changing bodies as they age with grace. The new normal may be extra foreplay along with lubricants, moisturizers or other enhancements to make the sexual experience more enjoyable for both partners. The pair bonding that the couple enjoyed in the early marriage may still be going, if the couple was able to challenge themselves and each other during the other phases of life so that they can enjoy another “new normal” during this vibrant time of their lives.

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