One of the most common sexual problems between men and women is that men tend to go to sleep very soon after sex, a time when most women want to cuddle and/or talk. Of course, this is not true in all relationships, but it is true in more relationships than not. In addition to being a frequent complaint, it is also a serious one that can affect not only the sexual relationship but also the relationship as a whole.
It is unfortunate that few men realise the seriousness of this issue, or take steps to address it. For many, going to sleep after sex is completely natural. They do not realise that as they lay snoring away, their partners are laying awake with their emotional needs unfulfilled, often disappointed and angry that their needs and desires for post-sex intimacy have been ignored. These negative emotions are due not only to their needs not being met, but perhaps even more importantly the resulting perception that their male partner is both unaware of and indifferent to their needs. Even in the cases where women have expressed their post-sex intimacy needs, the male partner seldom responds, continuing to fall asleep immediately after sex.
In a long-term relationship, such repeated post-sexual disappointment can easily damage the sexual relationship as well as the relationship more generally. It is an irony that many men seeking to improve their sex lives focus on the physical side (in particular, penis size) and will often spend considerable emotional energy and money on trying to enhance these attributes, when all they need to do to please their partners more is to stay awake a few minutes.
The first step in solving this problem is to understand it. The explanations for why men fall asleep after sex fall into four categories, the first of which is personality related and the remaining three are physical:
- Indifference. This is the explanation most frequently given by women when asked why men fall asleep after sex. They propose that the man's needs (sexual release) have been met and they are then no longer interested in the woman's needs.
- Oxygen deprivation. Sexual studies have noted that men often hold their breath during sex, especially during climax. A number of articles have concluded that this results in partial oxygen deprivation and attributed the resulting desire to sleep to this.
- Fatigue and/or relaxation. Sex most often occurs late in the day, when men are tired. It also typically occurs in the bedroom, the natural place for sleep. In addition, sex often is relaxing, not least due to the release of sexual tension.
- Hormonal. A variety of brain chemicals and hormones are released during sex; some of which are linked to relaxation and sleep.
The second explanation, while plausible, does not stand up to examination. During sex there is typically a rapid increase in breathing, far greater than required by the physical exertion involved. This elevates blood oxygen and easily compensates for the temporary holding of breath typical at the point of climax. There is little or no oxygen deprivation (this has also been measured in laboratory measurements of volunteers having sex). Furthermore, their are many other activities where men hold their breath (e.g. swimming underwater, pearl divers) or have reduced oxygen levels (e.g. during athletic activities) without feeling an urgent desire for sleep. Although extreme oxygen deprivation (for example, from carbon monoxide poisoning) can induce extreme fatigue and desire to sleep, this is clearly not associated with normal sexual activity.
The third point has more validity. The period between sex and sleep is longer if sexual intercourse is in a place other than the bedroom, if it is earlier in the day, or if it occurs when people are rested rather than tired. It is also true that sleep comes easier and quicker when one is relaxed, so in so far as sex relieves tension, it also inclines one to fall asleep quicker. However, this can only be a partial explanation. Men will often lie awake in bed for long periods before falling asleep, even if they are relatively relaxed. Yet these same men may fall asleep almost immediately after sex. The act of sex, while physical in nature, is not so physically strenuous as to produce exhaustion requiring immediate sleep. Nor is the amount of relation involved sufficient in itself to induce almost immediate sleep. Consequently, while fatigue and relaxation are factors that play a part, they are only a partial explanation.
The first explanation also provides a partial explanation. Some men are interested primarily in their own desires and once satisfied do not care about those of their sexual partner. However, especially in a long-term relationship, most men want to satisfy their wife/girlfriend and be considered a good sexual partner (even if, as is sometimes the case, it is only so that they can continue to have ready access to sex). It would perhaps be more accurate to say that men have trouble understanding the need for intimacy. For many men, sex is primarily a physical act and once climax is over, sex is completed. They do not see post-sex cuddling and talking as a necessary or even relevant part of sex. Even when this is explained to them by their partners, the concept is often so foreign to their nature that it is difficult for them to understand or respond to it. However, such considerations are only a partial explanation.
The influence of hormones is rather more complex. During sex various brain chemicals and hormones are released, especially at the point of climax. These include norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin, and the hormone prolactin. The impact of these various chemicals is only partly understood. However, the hormone prolactin in particular is associated with sleep. Animals injected with the hormone become tired immediately and tend to quickly fall asleep, unless there is a need to stay awake (for example, hunger or fear). The strong link between the release of this hormone and sleep, combined with the release of this hormone during climax, are strong explanations for why men tend to quickly go to sleep after sex. It should also be noted that both the amount of hormone released, and the tendency to go to sleep, are related to the type and strength of orgasm. Research had found that climax from sexual intercourse releases about four times as much of this hormone as climax from masturbation, and that the tendency for men to fall asleep after sexual intercourse climax is much greater than after masturbation climax. A possible hypothesis for further testing is that a more intense climax (better sex), by releasing a greater amount of the hormone prolactin, brings on male sleep quicker. From a woman's perspective, this is perhaps the opposite from what one would want.
In summary, there are various explanations for why men tend to fall asleep shortly after sex. The release of hormones associated with sex (in particular, climax) is a strong explanatory factor. The conditions in which sexual intercourse occurs (end of the day, when fatigued, in bed where one sleeps) along with the release of tension are often contributing factors. In themselves, these factors do not force sleep, but they produce a strong tendency for sleep. Although their female partners may have a strong need to engage in post-sex intimacy, if the male partner is indifferent to or insufficiently aware of this need, the tendency to sleep is not resisted and the man may well go to sleep almost immediately after sex.