January 2, 2019


Ben Ze’-ev writes about the difference between romantic intensity and romantic profundity. The former focuses on momentary passion. The latter is the warm, intimate, long-term affection you have for your partner – a different love than what you feel for friends and family. Both categories of romance are important for relationships, but the latter is a stronger indicator of happiness. The better you feel about your partner, the longer and healthier your relationship will be. And yes, sex, plays a role in this.

We generally assume orgasms are the measure of good sex, but research shows the afterglow is more indicative of sexual health. Afterglow is that pleasant, fuzzy feeling we get after good sex. It’s visible, infectious, and more important than orgasm. It makes you more attractive, to your partner … and anyone else that sees it. It’s thought to be a biological mechanism for couple bonding, but it can also break weak pairings. Other potential partners will pursue you – based entirely on your afterglow – and this pursuit could get between you.

Much ado about sex

Shakespeare spoke about dying in his lover’s lap. (Well, Benedick did – to Beatrice – in the play Much ado about nothing). The French call it ‘la petite mort’ – the little death. Both are references to orgasm, and it’s why there’s an adage that ‘every animal is sad after sex.’ Unfortunately, many men drift off after sex, a direct response to physical exertion. As it turns out though, striving to stay awake for a few minutes, kissing and cuddling their partner before they fall asleep, that enhances her afterglow.

And the more she glows, the better you bond, the happier she’ll be, the longer you’ll stay together. More importantly (for you), a strong afterglow increases her chances of wanting sex in the future, with or without premature ejaculation. Two studies on newlyweds (Muise et al in 2014 and Danovitch in 2017) both found that afterglow typically lasts 48 hours after sex, and that’s it’s not necessarily linked to orgasm. It’s about feeling attractive and valued for more than just sex. The stronger a partner’s afterglow, the happier they are in the relationship, and their sense of satisfaction extends outside the bedroom.

The power of post-coital petting

The opposite is true as well. Partners whose lover fell asleep or left the bed immediately after ejaculation felt unappreciated. They felt emotionally cut off because it implied their value was all about the act of sex. That kind of partner is unlikely to initiate love-making in future. Because afterglow has such a powerful effect, it’s a more significant satisfaction factor than the frequency of sex. Couples that have brief, irregular sex will still self-report sexual contentment if their encounters trigger prolonged afterglow.

And the key to creating and extending this afterglow is simply to spend some time in your partners’ arms after sex, kissing, cuddling, complimenting, and affirming your affection. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring your partner to orgasm. It means reassuring them and nurturing their afterglow has a larger, more sustained impact on your sex life than trying to last longer in bed. Plus, according to Floyd et al in 2009, it lowers stress and cholesterol. And all it really takes is a cuddle, a hug, and a long, heartfelt kiss.

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