Moments after a blissful sexual adventure with his girlfriend, the achingly handsome actor almost always nods right off.
“Half the time I fall asleep right after sex,” admits the 36-year-old Los Angeles man, who, like others interviewed about their postcoital behavior, asked for anonymity. “I usually fall asleep right on my girlfriend. Then I wake up and we talk.”
What do people do in the delicious afterglow of sex? For most, the answer probably depends on when sex occurs, the intensity of the experience and personal foibles. But the pervasive cliche, borne out by research and anecdote, is that men fall asleep while women wake right up.
“I feel light, airy and a little high after sex,” says a 36-year-old married mother of two who lives in Marina del Rey. “I have this extra energy and I want to cuddle, but usually my husband is so tired that he wants to go to sleep. I get into writing in my journal, or sometimes I will go into the bathroom and throw out old medicine. I do mundane tasks, particularly in the bathroom. Once I got up to clean grout out of the tile.”
Her husband, a burly carpenter, doesn’t mind her energy surge, but he objects when she leaps right out of bed. “It’s a little abrupt,” he says.
Some men seem to need time to recover from the intensity of the interaction.
“My boyfriend says that our sex is like a religious experience,” says one 53-year-old woman, whose halo of silvery blond hair and radiant skin suggests that the sexual deliverance is mutual. “He tells me not to ask him to do anything after. He is like putty. Me, I could get up and do the laundry or paint the house. But we lie there, cuddle, tell each other our deepest secrets.”
Pillow talk is something one outdoor-sports fanatic says he will do “to be thoughtful,” but a post-sex cigarette while cuddling in bed, (yes, he knows it’s a fire hazard) followed by sleep is what he loves most.
“What happens after is important in terms of bonding,” says the 42-year-old man, who works as an advertising copywriter. “Sometimes we engage in lovey-wovey talk. If the sex is particularly adventurous, we will kind of talk about it and give each other an executive summary about what just happened. But it is just such a peaceful, relaxed feeling you just want to go to sleep.”
The sedative effect of sex is thought to be related to the release of opiate-like endorphins and oxytocin, a hormone that fosters a feeling of sexual satisfaction and the urge to touch. (Oxytocin is also released during childbirth, breast-feeding and when touching). One researcher theorizes that the surge of oxytocin in men, combined with a crash-bang-post-orgasm-letdown casts a “Sleeping Beauty"-like spell.
“Men don’t get enough oxytocin, so when they get their fill, it helps them to sleep,” says Theresa Crenshaw, a San Diego physician and author of “The Alchemy of Love and Lust: How Our Sex Hormones Influence Our Relationships” (Pocket Books, 1997). “Women are awash in it because they are holding kids and doing all sorts of things that trigger it. They have developed a tolerance to the soporific effects of it. Whereas men react to it.”
Women’s bodies return from sexual climax gradually, maybe even hesitantly, as the pleasure waves dissipate. The impulse to stroke the hair, snuggle into the curve of a back or to reveal something intimate is one way to draw out the connection.
“My husband always has a cigar afterward and then we talk,” says a Santa Ana mother of three. “He is more open to having an emotional conversation after sex because usually he is businesslike. I talk to him about things I would talk to a girlfriend about. It is a bonding thing. Then we conk out.”
Birds & Bees is a weekly column on relationships and sexuality. Kathleen Kelleher can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.