Why do I sometimes cry after having an orgasm?

Dear Dr. Patti:

Recently, I have fallen in love with my boyfriend of five months. Needless to say, we have incredible sex; however, sometimes after a really intense orgasm I will burst out in tears. Why does this happen to me? I never have been sexually abused, and I am very open about my sexuality. --N

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Dear N:

What a lovely question. Contrary to what many people may think, the responses women exhibit at the peak of orgasm are varied and can often be misleading. Women report to me that at their climax they explode with many varieties of emotional release. Those expressions can include tears, laughter, sobbing and intense crying.

Because the sexual response cycle is multiphasic, there are levels of energetic buildup during the whole process. The sex researchers Masters and Johnson first noted the four basic phases (excitement through resolution); Helen Singer Kaplan chronicled the desire phase. Later still, the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality determined the initial phase. The sexual response cycle works like this: First a woman feels a slight interest in having a sexual experience of some sort (the "vague stirring" phase); then she may become aroused and feel actual desire for sexual expression. Next she will experience excitement, during which many physiological changes occur, followed by heightened arousal at the plateau phase. Then comes her orgasm, at which point she releases all the pent-up energy and blood engorgement that has accumulated; and, finally, she rounds out with resolution.

All along this continuum are indicators, such as change in color, increased breathing, swelling of genital tissue and hardness and wetness of the male and female sex organs. Throughout this process of arousal through to the "pop" of orgasm, energy is amassing and must be discharged. That energy may take the form of whatever the body is capable of releasing -- so that it may show up, as for you, as intense crying. This is nature's way of giving you a precious gift. In American culture, tears and crying have received too much bad press, for both men and women. Know that this is a perfectly wonderful means for letting out both feelings and energy. Crying, for you, may be your body's way of telling you it has completed a dance, or an intense journey, through sex.

Be sure that you have thoroughly checked inside to make sure that these tears are of joy, not sadness or something else that may stem from a past wound around relationships, sex or your body image. Then go forth in delight that you can enjoy so much emotional juice. It's terrific that you can feel, express and know that you are truly alive.

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