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The Importance of What Happens After Sex

Popular media portrays a range of after sex activities – some partners cuddle, drift off to sleep, spend hours talking, smoke a cigarette, or, in some cases, rush out the door after sex. But, what do we really know about after sex behaviors? As we have discussed in previous articles, researchers have studied when, how often, and with whom people have sex. In comparison, we know much less about what people do after sex. This is unfortunate, because post-coital sexual activities, or the activities that occur during the time after sex (while partners are awake together), could be important for relationship commitment and satisfaction.

To learn more about what happens after sex, researchers recently asked people to rate the importance of a variety of post-sex activities. Specifically, study participants indicated the importance of engaging in each of the following after-sex activities with both a short- and long-term partner: cuddling, caressing, having an intimate conversation, pursuing continued sexual activity, having a drink, a cigarette or something to eat, showering, falling asleep or leaving to avoid sleeping next to a partner.1 In general, people placed more importance on cuddling and intimate behaviors in long-term as opposed to short-term relationships. Women rated these types of post-sex activities as more important than did men, but there was less of a discrepancy between men and women’s ratings in long-term partnerships. Men placed more importance on continuing sexual activity and on other external rewards such as eating, drinking or smoking, than women, particularly in short-term relationships. According to evolutionary theory, variations in the importance of after sex activities may reflect gender differences in mating strategies – men, in general, benefit more from short-term mating strategies and therefore place more importance on external rewards after sex whereas women place more importance on intimacy. In long-term relationships, however, there are fewer gender differences. For example, both men and women place importance on saying “I love you” to a long-term partner after sex.1

In another study, researchers investigated the factors that are associated with greater satisfaction with post-sex activities. Not surprisingly, satisfaction is associated with the degree to which you feel your post-sex needs are being met. Women who desired more bonding and commitment signals than they were receiving from a partner were less satisfied with post-sex activities. For men, their satisfaction declined the more they perceived their partner was interested in discussing relationship issues after sex.2

Although we are only beginning to study scientifically the importance of what happens after sex, one thing is clear: the influence of sex on a relationship does not end with sex.  

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1Hughes, S. M., & Kruger, D. J. (2011). Sex differences in post-coital behaviors in long- and short-term mating: An evolutionary perspective. Journal of Sex Research, 48(5), 496–505. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2010.501915

2Kruger, D. J. & Hughes, S. M. (2010). Variation in reproductive strategies influences post-coital experiences with partners. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 4(4), 254-264.

Dr. Amy Muise - Sex Musings | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Muise’s research focuses on sexuality, including the role of sexual motives in maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships, and sexual well-being. She also studies the relational effects of new media, such as how technology influences dating scripts and the experience of jealousy.

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