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Sexual 'Afterglow,' and Why It Matters So Much

What your afterglow reveals about your relationship.

Key points

  • Afterglow, or the enhanced satisfaction that lingers following sexual activity, has been found to promote bonding between partners.
  • A recent study found that, for many couples, feelings of afterglow lingered for 48 hours after sex, perhaps due to activation of dopamine and oxytocin receptors.
  • The longer a couple's afterglow tends to last, this research suggests, the more marital satisfaction they may report over time.
Jacob Lund/Shutterstock
Source: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Have you ever experienced a warm, fuzzy feeling after sex—a contentment and satisfaction you feel long after the physical act has ended? Researchers Meltzer and colleagues (in press) recently studied this "sexual afterglow," how long it lasts, and what its duration means for your relationship.

What Is "Sexual Afterglow"?

Meltzer defines sexual afterglow as "enhanced sexual satisfaction that lingers following sexual activity." She and her colleagues suggest that this afterglow functions to promote bonding in romantic couples.

The researchers studied more than 200 newlywed couples from Texas and Florida, who were recruited via letters, Facebook, fliers, and word of mouth; all had been married for less than six months. The researchers measured couples' marital satisfaction, and when they engaged in sex over a 14-day period. The couples also reported their sexual satisfaction each day during the study, and whether they had sex that day or not.

Interestingly, men and women did not differ in their sexual satisfaction and, not surprisingly, when couples had sex, they reported enhanced sexual satisfaction that day. But Meltzer and colleagues were not only interested in the couples' satisfaction on the day of sexual activity, but how long that sexual satisfaction would last. They found that couples' increased sexual satisfaction lasted not only 24 hours later, but also 48 hours later.

Although the researchers didn't measure biological or neurological variables in this study, they believe that sex activates dopamine and oxytocin receptors in the brain. These neurochemicals are associated with the experience of romantic love.

What Your Afterglow Reveals About Your Relationship

Although husbands and wives generally felt less marital satisfaction over the early months of their marriage, the longer their sexual afterglow lasted, the more marital satisfaction they reported over time. According to the researchers, this finding suggests that enhanced sexual afterglow contributed to the couples' relationship satisfaction. The researchers stress that because the couples in this study were all young and almost entirely heterosexual, future research is needed to explore sexual afterglow among older couples as well as gay and lesbian couples. However, the researchers speculate that older couples in longer-term relationships may have a longer sexual afterglow, which supports their long-lasting relationships. In future research, Meltzer and her colleagues hope to explore the relationship between sexual afterglow and infidelty; they hypothesize that a longer afterglow may be associated with a reduced risk of cheating.

This research is currently in press and will be published in Psychological Science.

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Meltzer, A. L., Mackhanova, A., Hicks, L. L., French, J. E., McNulty, J. K., & Bradbury, T. N. (in press). Quantifying the sexual afterglow: The lingering benefits of sex and their implications for pair-bonded relationships. Psychological Science.

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